How are you doing on your New Year’s Resolutions? In an article published at the beginning of 2020, The New York Post reported that February 1st was the day most of us quit. It took only 32 days to break a habit and survey results revealed that most people had given up well before that. Whether you’ve already broken your resolution or are simply ready to start a new one, here are 3 steps to starting healthy habits that will help your new behaviors stick.
Step 1: Start with a “want to”
One of the most overlooked keys to starting healthy habits is to begin with something you want to change instead of something you think you should change. If the doctor tells you that you should lose weight, or a friend suggests that you should cut back on social media and you decide to take their advice, your behavior won’t change unless you want to change. Without the motivation to change a habit you may go through the motions for a while but low motivation leads to lack of success, especially when adopting new behaviors that are hard, like losing weight or stopping the scroll. Instead of choosing a should, choose a want to habit. Interestingly, when you feel successful starting healthy habits around a want to, your motivation increases, and with boosted motivation you just might be ready for the challenge of a should habit.
Step 2: Go small (tiny even)
Once you have chosen a “want to” habit, the next step is to break that habit into smaller actions. Behavior scientist BJ Fogg calls these tiny habits. Since overzealousness is often the culprit for quitting resolutions or healthy habits, adopting small habits results in greater success starting healthy habits. Let’s use one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions as an example – starting a regular exercise routine. While it might seem that this habit is singular, like going for a run, it’s actually a series of small habits that include: (1) scheduling time for it, (2) putting running clothes on (or buying some), (3) putting on your shoes (or buying some), (4) finding your fitness tracker (or buying one), (5) planning your route, (6) heading out the door (or to the gym – which is a whole other series of habits), (7) starting your run, and (8) stopping your run. At any point along this path if you encounter an obstacle or have to make a decision about what to do next, you may not run. Alternatively, a tiny habit example is to put on your shoes. That’s it! Once you do this, you’ll likely head out the door and maybe run. But if you celebrate the victory of putting on your shoes, you make habits rewarding and have a stronger foundation for building a running habit that sticks.
Step 3: Shape your environment
After you’ve chosen your “want to” habit and made it small, step three is to change your environment to reach your goal. No matter how much willpower, dedication, or motivation you have, your environment has the biggest impact on starting healthy habits. What you see, hear, and smell around you impacts your choices. If your goal is to start that running habit, for example, set your environment up with reminders, or cues, that trigger your habit. You can leave your running shoes and workout clothes in a visible spot, set an alert on your phone at your workout time, or put a running chart on your mirror or fridge. On the flip side, a poorly designed environment will tempt you toward inaction. A disorganized closet, a rainy day without a contingency plan, or easily accessible junk food may all tempt you to skip the run. When you’re starting healthy habits, the power of a nudge can help you reach your goals.
If you follow these 3 steps to starting healthy habits, you will have greater success making your new behaviors stick and improve your health and happiness as you go.