The 3 Secrets To Creating Healthy Habits

I know, I know. The idea of habit. Many of us dread the idea of new habits. But the truth is, our lives are ruled by habit and I think that the reason many of us think that changing a habit is hard is because we’re going about it the wrong way.

You brush your teeth each morning as a matter of habit. How you tie your shoelaces are a matter of habit. The order in which you put your clothes on in the morning is a matter of habit. The same goes for the journey you take to work. These are all behaviors that you do automatically, without even thinking. And that’s the key – the fact that habits are automatic behaviours.

Habits allow you to do things with less effort, in less time and less thought – even no thought. What’s not to like about that?

But on the flip side, habits can make or break the deal when it comes to losing weight, eating more healthily, or changing your lifestyle. And if you know the secrets behind habits, you’ll set yourself up for success.

Forming new habits by including these secrets have actually been put to the test in various studies. One study found that individuals who formed 10 simple diet and activity behaviours lost 2 kg after 8 weeks, compared to 0.4 kg in those who didn’t form any new habits. And at the end of 32 weeks, through these simple habits, individuals lost an average of 3.8 kg.

SO WHAT ARE THE 3 SECRETS TO CREATING HEALTHY HABITS?

  1. It’s much easier to choose a new behaviour (for example, eat protein with every meal), rather than give up an existing behaviour (such as, stop eating dairy), because you simply can’t build a habit around not doing something.
  2. Small changes lead to benefits over the long term. Small dietary changes that are sustained can help with weight management and regular light or moderate activity is better than none.
  3. The simpler the actions, the easier and more quickly they become habit.

PUTTING IT INTO ACTION

To put these secrets into action, and to create new and simple healthy habits, follow these 5 simple steps.

Step 1. Decide What You Want To Do

The first step is to decide what you want your new habit to be. Be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell yourself you want to exercise more or drink more water. Instead say something like “I want to go for a 30 minute walk every single day” or “I want to drink 2 liters of water every day”.

Step 2. Chunk It Down

This step is especially important, because this is the one that can significantly decrease the feeling of effort that it takes to form a new habit.

Chunk down your desired new habit into a simple action that you know beyond any shadow of doubt that you can and will be able to do every single day. This becomes your first action step.

For example:

  • For your desired new habit of, “I want to go for a 30 minute walk every single day,” you know that you would definitely do 10 minutes of walking every day; if you were to think about 15 minutes, there’s doubt whether you’d do that every single day. So, 10 minutes of walking every day becomes your first action step.
  • Similarly, for “I want to drink 2 liters of water every day,” you might decide that ½ liter is what you can categorically do every single day without fail. So, drinking ½ liter becomes your first action step.

Step 3. Plan It In

Be consistent. Decide when and where you will do your first action step. Will you walk 10 minutes a day every day during your lunch hour? Will you drink your ½ liter of water every morning as soon as you get to work? Schedule a reminder and then do it at that time and place, every single day.

Step 4. Chunk It Up

Once this first action step has become habit, chunk it up to the next notch. How many minutes of walking now feels like a done deal? 20 minutes? Great! That’s your next action step. 1 liter of water? Perfect!

Step 5. Repeat Until You Reach Your Goal

Congratulations, you’ve made a healthy habit!

What new habits are you going to adopt? Here are some ideas to get you going.

  • Keep a daily food journal
  • Chew more slowly at every meal
  • Eat only dark chocolate of at least 70%
  • Have a smoothie for breakfast
  • Go to bed by 10 p.m. every night

Now, over to you. Come on over to the Facebook page and share your new proposed habit with us!

Love

Veronica
xo

References

Gardner, B., Lally, P. amd Wardle, J. (2012) Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice 62(605): 664-666

Hill, J.O. (2009) Can a small-changes approach help address the obesity epidemic? A report of the Joint Task Force of the American Society for Nutrition, Institute of Food Technologists, and International Food Information Council. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89(2): 477–484.

Lally, P., Chipperfield, A. and Wardle, J. (2008) Healthy habits: Efficacy of simple advice on weight control based on a habit-formation model. International Journal of Obesity 32(4): 700–707.

Lally, P. and Gardner, B. (2013) Promoting habit formation, Health Psychology Review, 7:sup1, S137-S158.

Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Potts, H.W.W. and Wardle, J. (2010) How are habits formed: modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology 40: 998–1009.

McGowan, L., Cooke, L.J. and Croker, H. (2012) Habit-formation as a novel theoretical framework for dietary change in pre-schoolers. Psychology of Health 27(Suppl1): 89.

Warburton, D.E.R., Nicol, C.W. and Bredin, S.S.D. (2006) Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian Medical Journal 174(6): 801–809.