Tips For Building Healthy Habits
You know those people on social media who one day decided to turn their life around and now they’re a whole new person?
I love those stories. Here’s this happy, smiling person who lost 100 pounds and kept it off. Now they make a living inspiring others to adopt healthy habits and live their dreams.
The thing is, though, I’ve never really been that person.
I’ve tried to be! I have impulse purchased a dozen diet plans or app subscriptions, Beachbody On Demand, you name it. But at the end of the day, I never stuck with any of them. Why?
It was always too much at once.
The Power of Starting Small With New Habits
A huge reason my life is 1,000x better today than three years ago is because I stopped chasing after these big life overhauls and embraced the power of small, incremental changes.
A note on that last point. I did make a HUGE life overhaul by getting sober, but I’m specifically referring to lifestyle changes. Addiction recovery is a different beast.
There’s a reason people who drop 100 pounds over the course of a year and keep it off receive invitations to appear on Good Morning America. It’s rare! They are beautiful unicorns. The rest of us? Not so much.
It does NOT mean we can’t get to where the are. It simply means our paths will be different.
The Thing About Healthy Habits
There’s a reason bad habits are so easy to develop. They make us feel good instantly. Our brains love that!
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes, “(w)ith our bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the outcome feels good.”
So the trick becomes, how do you make these healthy habits feel good right now so that you actually want to stick with them?
And that’s where the healthy habit tips come in.
1. Break big goals down into progressive milestones.
A lot of people give up on their goals because they try to do too much at once.
On one of my sobriety attempts, I joined a four-week intensive boot camp the first day I quit drinking and smoking. I lasted a week and ended up with pneumonia because my body and brain were like, “whoa what is all this?!”
You have to break your overall goal into bite size pieces.
Let’s take weight loss as an example.
If you want to lose weight and are basically starting from zero – no real healthy eating habits to speak of – you need to break your goal down into manageable parts.
Start with breakfast. Oh, you enjoy a daily Egg McMuffin?
Make your own homemade, healthier version or hop on Pinterest and find something you can make for breakfast that you would actually enjoy eating.
From there, you’ll make a plan for incorporating healthy snacks into your routine, followed by lunch, and eventually dinner. But you won’t do it all at once. Your brain is going to go into panic mode, which brings me to my next point.
2. Make the healthy habit as easy as possible.
If your mornings are a chaotic mess (which may be why you hit to the McDonald’s drive thru every day), then plan ahead.
You can set out skillet and utensils the night before and precook parts of the meal that can be stored easily in the fridge. Or, you can cook up a big batch of freezer-friendly breakfast treats to pop in the oven or microwave in the mornings.
Remember that willpower is a muscle. We can only fight ourselves for so long before we give up. So don’t fight. Make it easy.
I spent twenty minutes cooking up a batch of breakfast burritos, let them cool (another five minutes), and then stored them in reusable freezer bags (let’s be eco-friendly folks) and boom! Breakfast for an entire week sorted in under thirty minutes (if I choose to eat breakfast burritos every day, which I do not).
Take your mini-goal and figure out the easiest way to make it a part of your life and then get started.
3. Choose A Few Easy Habit Wins
Some good habits are easier to develop than others. Going to the gym every day is significantly harder for most people than say, committing to drink more water.
Our brains like winning. It gives us a lovely chemical boost in the form of dopamine. Every time you achieve a goal, you brain says, “Hey this feels awesome. I’m going to keep doing this!” And so you do.
Every small, healthy habit you master becomes a stepping stone towards your end goal. The beauty of this process is that you don’t feel like you’re suffering through it. Quite the opposite, really.
So give yourself some easy wins that will help you towards your bigger, more challenging goals. Examples of this could be committing to starting your day off with five pushups.
Is that going to do much for your overall fitness? Probably not. But it will get you used to do physical activity at the same time each day while simultaneously making you feel successful because you’ve stuck with it.
4. Make your progress visible.
Let’s go back to your Egg McMuffin. Examples of making your progress visible could be putting the $2.50 you would normally spend on your McDonald’s breakfast (I actually don’t know how much it costs) into a jar. Once that jar is full, treat yourself to something.
Please note that you shouldn’t treat yourself to bad food. You can’t reward yourself with the bad habit you’re trying to escape.
If your goal is to drink more water, get yourself a transparent water bottle with measurements on the side so you can see how much you are drinking throughout the day. Amazon is full of options like these featured here:
This may sound silly to some, but I actually made myself a goal sheet which I stuck on my fridge and used tiny stickers like they used to give out in school to mark when I’d completed an activity. It worked for me!
I felt much more accountable with that chart staring me in the face every time I went to the fridge. Plus, I don’t care how old you are, stickers are always motivating.
Whatever visual tool you choose, make sure you can see your progress in some form every day.
5. Create a healthy-habit-friendly environment.
The less effort your healthy habit takes to adopt, the more likely you are to stick with it. Use your environment to help you achieve your goals.
Let’s say after you master the art of eating a healthy breakfast, you decide to move on to snacks. To make this easy on yourself, you need to get your healthy snacks and put them in visible, accessible places.
On the flip side, you need to get rid of the stuff you don’t want to eat or hide them in a cupboard somewhere you can forget about them.
Let’s say you want to read more and watch TV less.
Unplug your television after every use so that using it requires you to get up and plug it in beforehand. Take the batteries out of the remote. Place the books you want to read in convenient places like your couch or nightstand.
If your goal is to drink more water, put freshly filled water bottles in various rooms throughout your house. Or make sure your fancy time-tracker water bottle is by the sink or water cooler, ready to go each day.
Make the healthy habits you want to adopt as convenient as humanly possible. Conversely, you need to make your bad habits as inconvenient as possible. Environment-hacking is one way to achieve that.
6. Don’t get too comfortable.
James Clear talks about “The Golidlocks Rule” which asserts that in order to achieve a goal, you have to seek out the sweet spot. If what you’re practicing becomes too easy, you’ll get bored and quit. If it’s way too difficult, you’ll get frustrated and quit.
Do not become complacent once you achieve your smaller goals. You need to constantly be working at the edge of your comfort level in order to improve.
If your goal is to clean up your eating, don’t stop once your breakfast is on autopilot. Change things up. Push yourself to plan out and meal prep your lunches. Once that becomes second nature, move on to your dinner.
If you stay stuck at breakfast, you’re not going to lose much weight.
This theory applies to any healthy habit. If you want to get in shape, you have to consistently push yourself a little bit further. Maybe you start off doing five push ups in the morning. Once that becomes easy and automatic, guess what you need to do? Crank it up to ten.
Complacency is a goal killer. Don’t let it happen to you.
7. Incorporate healthy habits into your daily routines.
Find ways to include your new healthy habit into the things you’re already doing. Write it down if you need to. If you walk your dog every morning, bring your water bottle along and commit to drinking a certain number of ounces by the time you get back.
Every day, when I walk the dog, I will drink 8 oz of water.
Strategically place your new healthy habit in activities that seem like natural fit. If you want to start exercising in the mornings, commit to completing a certain number of pushups before you take your shower.
If it’s meal prepping healthy food, you can add it into your Netflix time. You’ll chop up veggies and cook big batches of broccoli and chicken while you watch the latest episode of (choose your favorite show).
The key is to make the incorporation of this new healthy habit as seamless as possible. You’re already watching the new Sabrina, you might as well cut some apple slices for tomorrow while you’re at it.
Healthy Habits Shouldn’t Feel Like Torture
If you’re using willpower or self-deprivation to change your life around, chances are you will fail. We get into the mindset of bad habits being fun and satisfying while healthy habits are terrible killjoys. That’s all wrong.
Healthy habits can (and should) be enjoyable.
The key is to make them work for you. You also need to define your goals and habits on your own terms. Not everyone is genuinely pining for a six pack. If you’re not, there’s no need to force yourself to eat like someone who is. This requires a bit of soul-searching on your part.
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that to succeed is to suffer. That’s the message we often receive. But it doesn’t have to be that way at all.
You can change your lifestyle and actually enjoy the process. In fact, if you don’t enjoy it, you will ultimately fail to make the big changes you want.
I look forward to helping you dive deeper into these concepts in future posts. In the mean time, here are some related posts you may find useful.
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