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How to Create New Habits That Stick

Launching an effort to adopt a new healthy habit is exciting, but the shine can wear off as the weeks and months roll by. Fortunately, there are powerful practical tactics you can use right now to boost your chances of staying on track, help you bounce back from setbacks and turn your new habit into an established routine. Create a solid foundation for lasting success with these tips and techniques.

Do the Prep Work

  • Start with the right reason. Make sure you’re adopting the habit for yourself, because you want to and not because someone else is pressuring you. Focusing on the positive aspects of how your new habit will make you feel, and build reinforcement into the process. Michelle Segar’s research demonstrates that focusing on things like the energy boost, mood lift or better concentration you experience after a brisk walk or run, for example, is a more effective motivator than wanting to prevent a heart attack in 30 years or generally improve your health. She explains that far-off or non-specific motivators for exercise aren’t strong enough to compete with the daily demands on our time and attention.
  • Be specific about your target behavior. Using the SMART goals format can help. Write three-month goals (where you want to be with your habit) and weekly behavioral goals (what you need to do to get there). Keep in mind that your goals aren’t carved in stone; adjust as needed if they’re too easy or too hard, or also if your priorities or circumstances change.
  • Assemble your squad. Invite one or more trusted friends or family to encourage you as you work on your new habit. Be specific; if you prefer text check-ins or more public shout-outs, say so.
  • Grease the skids. Aiming to increase vegetable servings? Stock your fridge, freezer and cupboards with appealing options. Starting a morning exercise routine? Set your playlist and alarm, put your clothes and shoes out the night before and get to bed a little earlier.
  • Book it. Schedule action items related to your new behavior—along with time to actually practice it—and alerts.

Make Your Move

  • Give it a whirl. It’s O.K. if you don’t feel completely comfortable with your new habit; that’ll come with practice. The important thing is to get started, as action spurs action.
  • Track it. Keep your system simple; a star on your calendar or checking a box on an app will work. Some find maintaining streaks inspiring, while others don’t. Personalize your tracking system so it works for you. As you make progress, you can see how far you’ve come.
  • Buddy up. If you can’t be together in person, check in with a call or text to cheer each other on, help each other get through challenges and keep moving toward your goals.
  • Keep an upbeat mindset. You’re not going to love eating more vegetables, meditating or strength training every time. Do your best to stay focused on what’s going well and how your new habit makes you feel. Are you more alert, happier or calmer when you get it done?

Stay On Track

  • Be flexible. Did you get pulled into a work meeting and can’t go for your walk? Were you up all night with a sick child and have no energy to chop veggies? Life happens. With a flexible mindset, you acknowledge the circumstance and pivot to plan B—or try again tomorrow. Habit-building isn’t an all-or-nothing process; it’s more like a series of experiments. Sometimes you’ll need to adjust your plans or expectations to keep moving forward.
  • Even the most committed behavior-changers fall back into old ways when stress climbs. Try different ways to manage stress and find what works best for you.
  • Get curious. Miss a day? Be kind and nonjudgmental with this approach: “I wonder why that happened. What could I do differently next time?” Everyone stumbles; shake it off and learn from it.
  • Keep things fresh and interesting. Regularly infuse your habit with new elements, such as trying new workout formats, equipment or locations, experimenting with new recipes or cooking techniques, practicing new breathing techniques, and much more. Sign up for a Thai cooking class, join a rec sports league or sign up for a virtual half-marathon.
  • Make it social. When it’s safe to do so, combine your habit with friendly fun. Host a whole-food, plant-based potluck, train with a friend for a 5K or take a dance class with your spouse. Integrating healthy habits with your social life makes them easier to maintain and more enjoyable.

Wherever you are in your quest for better health, hang in there—you can do this. Be patient with yourself throughout the process of building a new habit and turning it into a routine. If you feel stuck and need additional support to adopt a new healthy habit or routine, consider working with an ACE Certified Health Coach. These behavior-change professionals partner with you in setting goals, drawing on your skills and strengths, and implementing strategies to help you find your way to lasting success

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