Making New Habits Stick: 3 Easy Steps to Establish Good Health Habits

January 7, 2020

When you're used to a certain way of life, it can be hard to make a sudden change. This is why so many fail to keep their New Year's resolutions. It's not that lack the desire for change—it's just that they don't know HOW to turn their aspirations into new, lasting habits.

If you've decided this is the year you're going to take back control of your health or if you have another important resolution or goal, your next step is to focus on making new habits stick. Why? Well, studies have shown that the best way to make a lasting change for the better is to turn it into a habit. But that isn’t always so easy, is it? Where do you start, and how do you know it’s actually going to work?

In this article, I’ll be sharing my surefire ways to establish and maintain good health habits. These are proven tips and tricks that I’ve used over the years to help me achieve better health. For example, when I was younger, I wasn’t always the greatest at drinking enough water to keep my body properly hydrated. But in the last few years, I really made it a priority to keep myself hydrated by drinking a minimum of half my body weight in ounces. I made it a habit. And you know what? Today, my skin is healthier and I have more energy, better digestion, and even a brighter disposition.

So, whatever your health goals are for the new year, let’s dive into how you can make it happen all by making new habits stick!


Making New Habits Stick: 3 Steps to Establish Good Health Habits

Making new habits stick can be difficult when you don’t have a concrete action plan. Here are my top three steps to establish good health habits that you’re sure to maintain.

1. Establish a small health goal. 

OK, so we all know that when you’re embarking on anything new, it’s only natural to want to bite off a bit more than you can chew. After all, you’re excited and ready to take on the world, right? You have all of these big ambitions and you want to make it happen NOW. The problem with that is this: You’re one person who’s used to a certain way of life. Making new habits stick—especially healthy habits—aren’t always “fun.” It takes some hard work and focus. This is why it’s best to start with a small goal.

For example, when I decided to begin focusing on staying hydrated by drinking more water each day, I didn’t just start by automatically drinking my end goal amount. It would’ve left me overwhelmed. Instead, I started small, with a goal of drinking an extra glass or two a day. Once that became a habit, I increased from there. Keeping my health goal small helped me to achieve my goal more quickly, which, in turn, kept me motivated and helped me to reach my eventual big goal.

So, you can start making new habits stick by establishing your small goal. Want to cut out excess sugar from your diet? Start by eliminating one sugary food or drink. Want to start exercising more? Carve out 10 minutes of your lunch break to go for a walk. Remember to just keep it small. And make sure it’s something that’s important to YOU. After all, studies have shown that you’re more likely to stick with it if your goal is based on something that’s of interest to you and reflects your personal value. [1]

If you need some help in establishing your goal, make sure to check out my article on goal setting. And don’t forget to make sure to follow through with your goal and continue to build on it every week or two. Don’t just stop at goal No. 1. Keep going, because you can do this!

2. Choose a simple action.

Now that you have established a small goal, the next step in making new habits stick is to remember to keep it simple. Simple actions are easier to remember, and the less complicated something is, the more likely you are to stick with it.

In a 2009 study on habit formation, the researchers found that simpler actions actually become habitual in nature quicker than more difficult actions. They also found that when you keep your actions and goals simple, you’re less likely to become discouraged, even if you miss an opportunity to work toward your goal. [2]

In addition, research has revealed that small achievements in behavioral changes, such as eating healthier or cutting out unhealthy drinks for example, actually increases your belief in yourself to achieve your goals. And this can actually cause you to pursue further positive changes! [3] How incredible is that?

To use my hydration example again, drinking water is a truly simple action that can be done anywhere and almost anytime. Interestingly, I found that if I drank it in regular glasses, I didn’t hit my goal, as there were simply too many glasses to refill. But once I started carrying around 32 ounces of water in insulated cup with a straw, I would refill it twice to hit my minimum and soon found myself filling it three times. Taking a sip from a straw while driving, or between seeing patients, without having to walk to the water cooler for every 8 ounces made all the difference. I made it simple!

And to reflect on another example above, if you’re looking to exercise more, walking for 10 minutes if far simpler and easier than planning an hour-long workout at a gym when you’re just starting out. Just remember: Keep it simple.

3. Implement cues.

Making new habits stick ultimately depends on one important element: implementing cues. After all, a habit is an action that is automatically triggered in response to a cue associated with a specific performance. [4] Great examples of this are washing your hands after using the restroom, buckling your seatbelt upon entering your car, or even setting your alarm when you get into bed at night. The point here is that you’re doing your simple action automatically—without thinking about it or having to “remember” to do it. It just becomes a natural part of your new routine.

Looking for a few ways to implement cues? Let’s draw on my hydration goal example once again. Drinking more water will naturally lead to more bathroom breaks. If you’re looking to increase your water intake, pour yourself a few ounces after leaving the restroom. Drink several sips right after you leave the bathroom and before you do anything else. For me, having the large cup in my car prompted me to drink it, as it was in plain sight. That 30-minute drive home left me well hydrated.

Want to do something slightly different, such as cut back on your smartphone use? Make dinnertime your cue to put your phone away for the rest of the evening. Want to start moving more? Make the end of your lunch your walking cue. You don’t return to your desk or task at hand until you’ve completed your 10 minutes of walking. Implementing cues like these will go a long way in making new habits stick by reminding you to complete your simple action.


Making new habits stick - Dr. Pingel


Key Takeaways

  • Once you've made your New Year's resolution, the next step is to focus on making new habits stick. Why? Studies have shown that the best way to make a lasting change for the better is to turn it into a habit.
  • There are three proven steps to establish new health habits: establishing a small goal, choosing a simple action, and implementing cues.
  • Whether your goal is to drink more water, eat cleaner foods, or even just cut down on unhealthy habits, starting with these three steps will help you making lasting changes that will improve your health and your life.
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