How to Create Healthy Habits

Making healthy choices can help us feel better and live much longer. Maybe you’ve already tried to eat better, get more exercise or sleep, quit smoking, or reduce stress. Many of us know that it’s not that easy. But research shows how you can boost your ability to create and sustain a healthy lifestyle. It’s a journey.

It’s frustrating for all of us (even trainers and nutrition experts) to experience setbacks when trying to make healthy changes and reach sustainable lifestyle goals. But research shows that change is possible, and there are proven strategies you can use to set yourself up for long-term success. It’s a journey.

Lots of things you do impact your health and quality of life, now and in the future. You can reduce your risk for the most common, costly, and preventable health issues—such as heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, and obesity—by making healthy choices.

Know Your Habits

Regular things you do—from brushing your teeth, taking 2-3 showers per day, to having a few drinks every night—can become habits. Repetitive behaviors that make you feel good will affect your brain in ways that create habits that may be hard to change. Habits often become automatic—they happen without much thought.

The first step to changing your behavior is to create awareness around what you do regularly. Look for patterns in your negative behavior and determine what triggers the unhealthy habits you want to change. Get to the root cause of those triggers and do something about it.  Change is possible.  Act before things get out of control, and it’s too late.

Maybe you eat too much while watching TV or join a friend on smoke breaks even when you don’t want a cigarette. You can develop ways to disrupt those negative health patterns and create new ones. For instance, eat meals with the TV off or join friends for healthy activities, like walk breaks.

Make a Plan

Make a plan that includes small, reasonable goals and specific actions you will commit to taking to move toward them.  It is a journey.

If you walk by the vending machine at work and buy junk food every afternoon, try walking a different way to eliminate that temptation and decision and bring healthy snacks from home.  Prep those healthy snacks before bed.  Doing so will help you with your thoughts. Whenever possible, make a healthy choice.

Consider, visualize, imagine, and write what you think you’ll need to be successful. How can you change things around you to support your goals? You might need to stock up on healthy foods, remove temptations, and find a special spot to relax your mind and be at peace.  Reduce emotional eating.  It’s a journey.

Get friends and loved ones involved. Research shows that people’s health behaviors tend to mirror those of their family and friends. Invite them to join you, support you, and help you stay on track.  It will help you stay accountable.

People work harder when they feel accountable to someone. Whether it’s a coach, mentor, trainer, friend, family member, or work buddy, having others to report to can provide that necessary push you need to get stuff done. But ultimately you are responsible for your behavior. You got this.  It’s a journey.

There is no more powerful accountability partner than you. Rather than relying only on others, set up a system whereby you regularly track your own progress. Ask yourself what helped you succeed versus what might have caused you to get off track. Reward yourself when things go well but don’t beat yourself up when they don’t. As time goes on, you’ll notice patterns of what hinders your progress and what needs to be in place for you to make healthy choices. While it’s helpful to have accountability partners, recognize that it is you who has the most knowledge and experience to set yourself up for success.  It is a journey.

It’s also important to plan for obstacles. Think about what might derail your best efforts to live healthier. How can you still make healthy choices during unexpected situations, in stressful times, or when tempted by old habits?  

Stay on Track

Doing positive things for yourself can feel exciting and rewarding. But there will also be times when you wonder if you can stick with it. Do your best to identify negative thoughts and turn them into realistic, productive ones.  Repetitive positive self-talk is one method of getting rid of negative thoughts.  It sure did/does help me. Remember, it’s a journey

Keeping a record can help. You can use a paper journal, computer program, smartwatch, or mobile app to note things like your daily eating diet, exercise, stress levels, and sleep patterns. A study of people who lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year found that they often tracked their progress closely. Even when you think you’re about to ‘fall off the wagon,’ hold on. Continue to track your behavior. Sometimes when you feel like you’re failing, you can learn the most.  If you mess up, it’s okay, do not beat up on yourself.  It’s a journey.

The more you practice self-control, the better you become at it.  You develop the capacity and habit to act and react in another more positive way.  Self-control becomes more habitual over time.

Think About the Future

Some people have a harder time than others resisting their impulses. This is called “delay discounting,” where you discount or undervalue, the larger benefits of waiting in favor of smaller immediate rewards. This can lead to things like overeating, substance abuse, alcoholism, shopping too much, or risky sexual behavior.

You can learn to postpone immediate gratification through episodic future thinking, or vividly imagining future positive experiences or rewards.  It’s a great way to strengthen your ability to make decisions that are better for you and those around you in the long run.”  Write your vision.  Believe you can do it.  It’s a journey.

Short-term solutions, like seven-day cleanses or 21-day fitness crazes, are designed to jumpstart healthy living and produce rapid results. But they’re often not feasible for the long-term.  They can help you create and form healthy habits.

The key to getting healthy isn’t having a taste of your ideal self for a few weeks then reverting to old ways. It’s about creating sustainable change. Consider behaviors you can adopt that you’ll be more likely to stick with over time. This way, your efforts won’t be lost, and you’ll feel the true benefits of change.

Focusing on how a change might heal your body and mind. When you stop smoking, your risk of a heart attack drops within 24 hours. Reducing stress can lead to better relationships and lower blood pressure. Even small improvements in your nutrition and physical activity can reduce your health risks and lengthen your life. Take small, gradual steps. It’s a journey.

Be Patient

Sometimes when you’re trying to adopt healthier habits, other health issues can get in the way. When you’re really struggling with these behaviors, ask yourself if more is going on.  For example, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are many times tied to unhealthy behaviors. Get help.  It’s okay to need help.

A health professional can work with you to address any underlying issues to make change feel easier and to help you be more successful.

You’re never too out of shape, too overweight, or too old to make healthy changes. Never. Don’t let anyone make you feel that way.  Try different strategies until you find what works best for you. Slow and steady wins the race. Small, incremental steps are the best way to move towards your goals with success. If you’re trying to get more physically active, start with a 10-minute walk around your block a few times a week. If you want to reduce stress, try meditating for 10 minutes once a week and build on that. You may think this sounds too easy, but that’s the point. Over time, you can increase your efforts and enjoy the benefit of these healthy activities without feeling that the journey was such a struggle.  Take the necessary time and enjoy the journey.

The truth is that getting healthy starts in your head. If you don’t feel ready to take an action step forward, don’t worry. Just focus on “cognitive goals”, where you research and gather information, think about your options, consider the benefits of change versus staying the same, and map out how you might best integrate new healthy behaviors in your life. In due time, you’ll feel ready to take an action step forward, and the cognitive work you’ve done will pay off.

Things may not go as planned, and that’s okay. Change is a process. What’s most important is to keep moving forward. It’s a journey.

Find The Joy

Rather than taking some generic route to health, figure out what you can do to support a healthy lifestyle that also fits your personality, and empowers and excites you. Make it fun on purpose. When you design your life around things you love to do – activities that are uplifting and fun – it will stop requiring so much effort. Once you find the joy in living healthy, that’s when the lifestyle will stick.

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