There’s no doubt that establishing regular healthy habits can improve your quality of life and longevity. Once healthy behaviors — like quitting smoking, drinking only in moderation, or getting regular exercise — are entrenched into your regular schedule, you’re more likely to do them consistently.
But, how do you start to create these new healthy habits? Simply put, you do something for your health every day.
The term lifestyle change inherently means that changes are made such that they can be followed for the lifetime of an individual. Implementation of a lifestyle change implies that a routine is followed and habits are formed. A healthy lifestyle includes habitual consumption of nutritious foods, regular physical activity, consistent sleep, and knowing how to diffuse stress.
According to the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, there are four stages to forming a habit. At first they happen so fast they’re almost impossible to pick up on—until you discover what they are and start to slow down and look for them.
The good news is, forming a healthy habit is actually quite simple.
According to Atomic Habits, here’s how to do it:
- Making it obvious will help you remember to start the habit…
- Making it attractive will help you want to start…
- Making it easy increases the chance of you actually doing it, and…
- Making it immediately satisfying will feel good, which means you’ll want to do the habit again in the future
How long is this going to take? Well, historically, people have thought that it takes 21 days to create a new habit (or change an existing one), but recent claims have pushed that number up to 66 days. In fact, the most recent significant study shows that it can take anywhere between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit–which averages to about 66 days.
There are a lot of factors that play into this range, including the fact that some habits are easier to build than others. For example, as you can probably imagine, forming a habit of drinking more water throughout the day will probably be easier to stick to than going to the gym every day before work.
Obviously, the beginning of your journey to forming a new habit is going to be more challenging than the weeks to come. Your new behavior will become more automatic as time goes on, no matter what it is. All this to say – the research that shows it may well take much longer than three weeks to form a new habit shouldn’t be a deterrent from making a change.
The habit-building and habit-removing techniques you just discovered are powerful. But, they’ll only work if you put them into practice in your life. How are you going to work them into a routine?
I have 7 key steps that I like to highlight to clients when helping them blend their new healthy habits into a consistent, sustainable routine:
- Create a vision of what you look and feel like when you are in your new routine. Write it down. Share it with someone you trust. Review it daily.
- Schedule your new habit into your weekly and daily calendar. Hold this self-care appointment with yourself in as high regard as a doctor’s appointment. If it must be rescheduled, try to do so within the same day.
- Set reminders as needed to help you switch gears when it’s time for your new habit. Allow enough time for changing clothes, travel, showering, etc.
- Be prepared for roadblocks! Know what could get in the way, so you can make an action plan before it happens.
- Seek support! Call in support for knowledge like a personal trainer, nutritionist, therapist as needed. Or maybe you need childcare, an accountability buddy, or health coach to help you get started or to stay on track.
- Review & adjust as needed to feel confident your new habit is working well now and for the future.
- Celebrate! Reward yourself with a kindness that supports this new habit and your health and wellness. It could be as simple as a happy dance, or as lavish as a spa day!
Understanding the process of habit and routine formation, and the amount of time it takes to succeed will set you up for success. There is no shame in taking longer than three months to form a habit, or even four or five months. What’s important here is that you’re continuously improving your overall behavior and your daily habits because they play a critical role in building a positive daily routine and ultimately reaching your goals.
A large part of your success in establishing new habits that stick will depend upon your ability to exercise your best efforts, keep track of your progress, and make adjustments accordingly. Remember, you won’t get to Day 254 if you don’t get to Day 1. Starting the process is the only first thing that you must do!