With the new year upon us, you've probably been having a bit of a think about some resolutions; things you might want to change, or new goals to take on. Whether you believe in new years solutions or not, you've got to admit that a new year is a great excuse to have a fresh start or make a change... maybe even form a new healthy habit?
But then you may be thinking, how long will it take to make a good habit, like exercising regularly, stick? As the old saying goes, creating new habits takes 21 days, however the question around how to create new habits has raged between academics and life-hack gurus through the ages. A 2009 University College London study found it took subjects anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit, settling on an average of 76 days. Well there you have it - the more you know.
How to make healthy habits stick
Right, now we know how it's possible, let's give it a go. Psychologists have identified 3 clear rules for how to form new habits.
1. Find a simple and obvious reason
Once you've decided on the habit you want to work on, it's a good idea to set yourself a specific target, or 'reason' for sticking to it. Envision the long-term and consider the achievements you wish to crush. If you want to get into a habit of running every morning, think about what that could help you to achieve. Run a marathon? Climb a mountain? Or simply have a healthy body fat percentage into your senior years? Give yourself a reason to run, to help you stay on track.
That goal may feel light years away at first, so it can help to break it down into manageable and actionable steps. You need to think SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Thinking SMART makes this initially overwhelming goal feel achievable, first in your mind and then in your fitness. Plan to measure this every week and keep a detailed record.
2. Have clearly defined rewards
After you break the ice and get started, you'll start to reap the rewards. Numerous studies show that regular exercise revitalises your body with endorphins, combatting stress and improving cognitive function simultaneously. This soon transforms into a craving and when your brain begins to switch to autopilot, habits become ingrained. "Rather than fighting this reaction, reframing this craving for the purpose of making fitness addictive means something that used to be a struggle will quickly become a habit that you won’t want to kick."
Help yourself to get into a habit by laying down stepping stones to track your achievements. Rewards are a vital way to keep you motivated, so whether it's making it to one week, one month, and so on, of a daily habit, or adding on an extra lap of the pool to your daily swim - remember to celebrate when you get there!
3. Prepare for roadblocks
Let's face it, we all have days where we just can't be bothered. Knowing this, preparing ahead for those days can be helpful for making sure you don't drop your habit. If you think you might cave during a month without drinking, plan ahead and keep some delicious no-alcohol alternatives in the house, or find a friend to keep it up with you on tempting nights out. If you know getting up early in the morning can be hit and miss for those morning runs, make a habit of laying out your gym clothes the night before so they're ready to go. And keep The Energy Booster by your bed so it's ready to drink, of course.
One study in particular assessed the presence of a motivational source in the persuasion of creating a healthy habit. It was found that participants habit formations were heavily influenced by their everyday routine. The conclusion? If you want to create a healthy habit, try integrating it into your day like you would a meeting or a deadline.
Judah, G., Gardner, B., & Aunger, R. (2013). Forming a flossing habit: an exploratory study of the psychological determinants of habit formation. British journal of health psychology, 18(2), 338-353. Click here.