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Six Ways To Build Healthy Habits And Stick With Them

With around half of our daily actions driven by repetition, making sure our habits support our health is extremely important. Research has demonstrated a positive correlation between incorporating habits such as mindfulness, quality sleep, regular exercise and a nutritious diet with improvements in our mental wellbeing, work and relationships.

The golden question: “what exactly does it take to form new healthy habits and stick with them?”. Find out with the following steps.

Small Habits, Big Results

Gradually incorporating small habits, often referred to as ‘microhabits’, may be the go when it comes to sustainably achieving your health goals. The logic behind this is that as humans, we are more likely to perform tiny actions that don’t require significant amounts of motivation or willpower. By performing these low-effort actions over a long period of time, they become second nature leading to habit formation and finding an excuse to not do the habit is more effort than the habit itself. Examples of effective microhabitats could include drinking water at set times throughout the day, frequently going to the gym,or practising meditation or mindful eating.

Focus on Consistency

The key to successful habit formation involves repeating an action over and over again for an extended period of time. According to research, it may take around three months to successfully develop a new habit, however this is highly dependent on the individual. Performing specific actions frequently over a prolonged duration may lead to the development of new neural pathways, strengthening the likelihood of repeating the behaviour in the future. In fact, it may take around 10,000 repetitions of a behaviour, which equates to around three months, to establish new neural pathways and form new habits.

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Factor Them into Your Daily Routine

Being specific about when and where you will choose to perform a habit is very important. In short, providing contextual cues may be the missing link to long-lasting behaviour change. For example, having a protein-rich breakfast (action) before starting work (contextual cue) or meditating (action) before bed (contextual cue) helps us to visualise how exactly we will incorporate a habit into our daily routine, making it feel more realistic and achievable. Associating habits with positive thoughts, sensory experiences and visualisations may be the cherry on top to prime your brain for effective habit formation and sticking to these new daily actions over the long run.

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Remove Barriers to Success

Whether your goal is to build strength, spend more time with your family or prioritise self-care, understanding how to manage daily obstacles, often termed as ‘friction’ is inevitable. Friction exists as three types – distance, time and effort. For example, a study demonstrated that those living further away from their gym may be less likely to go on a regular basis than those living in closer proximity. Similarly, time constraints in the form of a busy work schedule, family commitments or frequent travel may interfere with our ability to stick with healthy habits. Lastly, if an action requires significant effort, our brains may be wired to take the path of least resistance and procrastinate or put it off entirely. The secret ingredient to overcoming these challenges? Incorporate low-effort hacks that enable you to basically tick off healthy habits on ‘airplane mode’.

If your goal is to improve your nutrition:

  • Aim to plan your weekly meals in advance
  • Meal-prep as much as you can (even snacks)
  • Follow the principle of ‘cooking once, eating twice’ to structure your weekly meals
  • Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy options to grab on-the-go
  • Simply remove refined and heavily processed foods to resist the urge

Partner-Up for Accountability

Holding yourself accountable through a ‘partner in crime’ may be an effective route to sticking with healthy habits, especially if they also have a similar goal in mind. Plus, it might be more enjoyable to try new things with a friend or family member by your side. If your goal is to exercise more often, bring a friend or family member along to a fitness class or go for a walk together at the weekend. If your goal is to improve your nutrition, creating a meal-plan with a range of healthy dishes and following it with a friend or family member may be helpful. Having a partner by your side or a phone call away means you can celebrate milestones and achievements together, making it all the more rewarding.

Focus on Sleep, Nutrition & Movement

Before integrating new habits, making sure your health is covered across key areas – sleep, nutrition and movement – should be the gold standard. Quality sleep enables your body to achieve health-oriented goals more easily as it may be linked with improved energy levels, mood and cognition. To optimise your shut-eye time, opt for a dedicated winding-down routine, which may include no electronics an hour before bed, engaging in non-digital activities such as reading or meditation and simply dimming down the lights.

Nutrition is of the utmost importance for providing the motivation and energy required to integrate new habits. Two of the easiest, low-effort tricks for revamping your nutrition include:

  1. Staying on top of your hydration by drinking enough water throughout the day – juices, juice shots, herbal teas and soups also count towards your daily water intake.
  2. Including a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, aiming for at least five portions (handfuls) per day.

On top of this, incorporating high-quality protein sources, fibre and healthy-fats with each meal may facilitate balanced blood sugar levels, which in turn supports sustained focus throughout the day.

Once sleep and nutrition are covered, finding time for regular movement in your day may lead to a further bout of energy, as well as improving mood, sleep quality and focus. Aim to add at least 25-minutes of moderate cardio-based exercise three times a week. In doing so, the benefits for your energy, mood and motivation may make it easier to stick with the habit over the long term. Note – please seek advice from your doctor before starting a new exercise regime if you haven’t exercised regularly for a while.


Author: Plenish Nutritionist, Katie Morley


Email: [email protected]