How to Create a Healthy Habit
Building a new habit doesn’t need to hard. Here’s how it's done.
Habits are the backbone of how we human beings function.
They’re the subconscious, automatic patterns of behavior that shape the way we operate everyday: like brushing your teeth, locking your apartment door behind you, or obsessively checking your Instagram.
Habits like these are so ingrained into our daily lives we don’t even have to think about them.
Imagine if we automated healthy habits into our daily lives. Eventually, we could be optimizing our health without even thinking about it.
But what happens when you try create a new healthy habit? You know, like hitting the gym 5 times a week, saving money for your next epic vacation, cutting sugar from your diet, or making time to meditate?
Suddenly we become acutely aware of how CHALLENGING it is to reprogram our routines. At first, it can feel impossible.
Despite our positive intention to form a new pattern of thought that will lead to a better version of ourselves, we often fail because we get sidetracked with excuses like lack of time, energy, or allowing ourselves to believe “it’s just too hard.”
Take New Year’s resolutions, for example. Studies show 81% of New Year’s Resolutions fail. That’s 8 of out 10 of your friends who will fail at forming that new habit of working out or eating healthy this year.
When you look at it that way, it doesn’t feel like the odds of success are in your favor, which can make the task all the more daunting...
The good news is it is absolutely possible, and with these tips, you can instill new habits that will lead to an effortless healthy lifestyle.
Set the Intention
First, define the habit you’re creating and be specific. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the habit?
- How will you practice the habit?
- How many times a week will you practice the habit?
For example, let's say I want to make meditation a habit. My answers to these questions would be as follows:
I define meditation as sitting alone with my eyes closed, focusing on my breath. I will practice this by sitting on my bed in silence, cross legged with my hands resting on my knees, breathing in and out, with a timer set on my iPhone so I’m not stressed about keeping track of the length of my session. I will begin with five minute meditation sessions, three times a week, with the intent of extending the amount of time as I progress.
By getting specific with your responses, you’ll have a clear understanding of what your goal is so that when you put your practice into action, overwhelm or frustration don’t become part of the equation. Instead, you’ll have a straightforward roadmap that takes you from start to finish every time you practice your habit, creating a simple routine--that once completed--becomes a small achievement on the path to reprogramming your routine.
When starting off, keep your new habit simple and easy to accomplish. Change is hard and our minds are often resistant to it looking for any excuse to stay within our comfort zones and forgo the hard work.
But if the practice of your new habit is non-threatening and can easily be worked into your daily routine, you’ll get less of a “hell no” response from your brain. It's like tricking yourself into it.
For example, I chose to start with five minute meditation sessions because it’s something that I feel capable of, as opposed to a 20 minute session which would have me completely overwhelmed and banging my head against the wall instead.
Whatever you decide, make your new habit work for you.
Light Your Fire
Steve Jobs said it best:
If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.
Identifying your motivation is vital to sustaining a new habit. Motivation is our reason for doing. It’s the drive that pushes us out of our comfort zones to accomplish our goals. It’s the fuel that makes your inner fire burn.
Motivation is the “why” behind the formation of your new routine. If you don’t have a reason to take action and make change, there’s no point in doing it.
Write down your motivation for creating this new habit. You might have one reason or ten, it doesn't matter. The point is to dig deep to identify these motivations because the more connected they are to your core values, the more reason you’ll have to do the work.
Continuing with the meditation example, instead of saying “I want to learn to meditate because everyone says it’s really good for you,” rework that statement so the outcome has a direct impact on your life. It could be something like this: “I want to learn to meditate so I’ll have a strategy to help manage the stress of my job.”
When using your life to fuel your “why,” the outcome of your stated goal becomes far more tangible, making the stakes of your success that much higher. It isn't just an abstract goal anymore. It's personal.
Creating a habit takes an average of 66 days, during which you’re likely to run into a number of roadblocks that will make you want to throw in the towel and call it quits. But when you hit these stumbling blocks, don’t fear! Just take a look at your list of reasons why you’re putting in this hard work to reignite your fire and get you back on track.
Put Your Practice into Action
With your defined habit and motivation locked in, it’s time to put your healthy habit into practice with the habit loop, a pattern for forming new routines described in Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit.”
The habit loop breaks down into three easy parts: trigger, behavior, and reward. This is the framework for successfully putting your healthy habit into action each time.
The Trigger is the action in your day that initiates the practice of your habit. The best way to set up a trigger is by incorporating your new habit into your current routine so that you have a daily prompt.
For example, every weekday without fail your routine consists of coming home from work and binge watching Law & Order. So if the habit you’re creating is to go to the gym 5 times a week, plant that smack in the middle of your daily pattern by coming home from work, getting your butt to the gym, and then sitting in front of the boob tube!
In this scenario, coming home from work (which you do every day) is what triggers the implementation of your new habit, making it just one more link in the chain of your current routine.
The Behavior is the actual practice of your habit. It’s going to the gym and getting your sweat on or making time to unplug and meditate for five minutes. This is where you put the roadmap you created while defining your habit above into action.
The Reward is your acknowledgement of a job well done. It can be as simple as a positive affirmation said out loud or giving yourself ten minutes of free time. Whatever it is, choose something that positively reinforces the accomplishment of putting your new habit to work.
The reward is important because when we pat ourselves on the back, it makes us happy, causing the brain to produce serotonin. This chemical reaction ultimately creates another loop in which the brain starts craving this release of serotonin, creating even more reason to practice your healthy habit!
Practice and Repeat
When it comes to creating a habit, repetition is key.
Though the average is 66 days to form a new routine, the same study reports that this process can range anywhere from 18 to 254 days. So remember what motivates you and continue putting your practice into action! As you progress toward your goals, take time to reassess your habit and come up with new ways to challenge yourself and keep your pattern formation engaging. After a while, you’ll notice you no longer think about this addition to your routine because its become just as effortless all your other habits.
And soon enough, you’ll have created a life full of healthy habits!
Read more from Ellen on her blog.