The reason many of us do not achieve the goals we set for ourselves is because we have either not established the healthy habits to do so or because we’ve adopted unhealthy habits that get in the way.
A habit is an acquired behavior pattern that you follow so regularly that it becomes almost involuntary. The reason habits are so powerful is because they happen subconsciously and your environment is usually arranged in a way to support that habit.
A habit is not an isolated action – there is a cue that you follow to engage in the habit. This means that you can craft the cue and arrange your environment to eliminate bad habits and incorporate healthy lifestyle habits that lead to success and fulfillment.
Here are some tips, backed by research, for forming new healthy habits.
1- STACK YOUR HABITS.The best way to form a new habit is to tie it to an existing habit, experts say. Look for patterns in your day and think about how you can use existing habits to create new, positive ones.
For many of us, our morning routine is our strongest routine, so that’s a great place to stack on a new habit. A morning cup of coffee, for example, can create a great opportunity to start a new one-minute meditation practice. Or, while you are brushing your teeth, you might choose to do squats or stand on one foot to practice balance.
2- DO IT EVERY DAY.
Habits take a long time to create, but they form faster when we do them more often, so start with something reasonable that is really easy to do. You are more likely to stick with an exercise habit if you do some small exercise — jumping jacks, a yoga pose, a brisk walk — every day, rather than trying to get to the gym three days a week. Once the daily exercise becomes a habit, you can explore new, more intense forms of exercise.
3- MAKE IT EASY.Habit researchers know we are more likely to form new habits when we clear away the obstacles that stand in our way. Packing your gym bag and leaving it by the door is one example of this.
4- REWARD YOURSELF.
Rewards are an important part of habit formation. When we brush our teeth, the reward is immediate — a minty fresh mouth. But some rewards — like weight loss or the physical changes from exercise — take longer to show up. That’s why it helps to build in some immediate rewards to help you form the habit.
Listening to audiobooks while running, for example, or watching a favorite cooking show on the treadmill can help reinforce an exercise habit. Or plan an exercise date so the reward is time with a friend.
5- DECIDE TO LIVE PROACTIVELY
99% of the people often do things hoping for certain results, and then see what happens. The other 1% – the leaders in this world – they approach life differently. They ask themselves: "What do I need to achieve that?”
By envisioning the result you want in advance, you can take control over the outcome. In this way you aren't taking a passive approach to life, just hoping it will happen or expecting it to happen. You are regaining control and taking a proactive approach to achieving your goals.
6- QUANTIFY YOUR GOALS
The first step is to ask yourself where you are right now. Because wherever you are, you can change that by creating healthy habits. If you are sitting on the couch and feeling tired, a run may not sound that appealing. Maybe you give it a 3 on a scale of a 0 to 10. Be honest with yourself. The idea is to create a benchmark that will help you determine how to create long-lasting, healthy habits.
Now, visualize where you want to be in comparison. What does a 10 out of 10 run look like? If you’re living proactively you’ll not only envision your workout, but all the other benefits you’ll get from going on this run. Your mood will improve. You’ll have more energy to play with your kids or grandkids.
Imagine how great you’ll feel after this run. See yourself running by everyone in your path effortlessly, beating your old time by several seconds. Quantify your goal – a 10 – and begin to understand what this new healthy lifestyle habit looks like.
7- QUALIFY OBJECTS AND EXPERIENCES
What would it take to make an object or experience irresistible? What would it take to make an object or experience something you couldn’t stand? Would you have to run at dusk when you find the temperature and lighting more appealing? Would you have to run with a friend?
Consider what conditions you need to create for yourself to make healthy lifestyle habits permanent rather than temporary. Ask yourself what you would have to appreciate, believe, feel and focus on to achieve a level 10 run. Emotions are tied to actions and the healthy habits we develop based on those actions. The goal is to change the emotion you tie to objects and experiences – and therefore change your actionsRemember, where focus goes, energy flows, so focus on things within your own control. If you say that to have a level 10 run it can’t rain, that is not in your control. But if you say, “I have to stop during the run and enjoy my surroundings,” then you are taking direct control of your outcome.
8- CREATE WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Quantifying and qualifying what is important to you comes down to creating your version of a fulfilling life. To do this, you have to look beyond your surface-level objective. Yes, you want to quit smoking, sleep more, develop healthier relationships or move ahead in your career, but why?
It’s not just because you do or don’t want to do these things, it’s about identifying your outcome and moving toward that end goal. Then you’ll be able to focus on creating healthy habits accordingly.
9- INTRODUCE HEALTHY HABITS THE RIGHT WAY
We’ve all been tempted to make multiple massive changes in our lives at the same time. Instead of focusing on eating healthier, you vow to eat healthier, stop smoking, train for a marathon and replace your evening glass of wine with a paleo tropical smoothie.
However, this rarely works. When you try to do too much, you lose focus and ultimately end up feeling deprived. Instead of creating a bunch of new healthy habits, you don’t sustain even one. Try to focus on one healthy habit at a time. Once that becomes part of your routine, then you can focus on the next one.
The key to healthy habits is focus. You have decided that this is what you are committed to. You have decided that this is the result you want. You aren’t waiting and hoping that it happens; you are creating the conditions that make it happen.
Part of creating healthy habits is setting the right environment – including the people in it. If you vow to eat healthier but your partner continues to cook chicken fried steak and burgers for every meal, you are setting yourself up for failure. Encourage your family and close friends to adopt healthy lifestyle habits with you. Not only will it increase your chances of success, but it will also deepen your relationship as you learn new things together.