Do you remember the first time you attempted something totally new and foreign? Perhaps it was swinging at a baseball or shooting a basketball. Or maybe it wasn’t related to sport at all! A lot of people have tried their hand at taking up a new musical instrument or learning another language. Learning how to build healthy habits is the first step in achieving any goal.
The results of those first attempts (with some exceptions) probably weren’t that great. Learning new skills and getting them locked in takes time and repetition, right? You have to build those habits and ways of working. With those two ingredients, what once took active thought and concentration becomes second nature.
Habit Building 101: How to Build Healthy Habits
How you approach anything is generally how you approach everything, and building the habits you need to succeed in new endeavors is no different. This is true for your health and wellness as any other part of your life. So what can you do daily to lay the groundwork for a lifetime of success in that space?
It’s tempting to try to “fix” everything at once when it comes to things like nutrition and exercise. Oftentimes, people have a tendency to pull to the most extreme end of the spectrum to make corrections rather than taking one step at a time. Rather than committing to 5 intense workout sessions per week straight out of the gate, look at 20 minutes of light walking or a sport you enjoy twice per week.
Only once you have that first box consistently ticked should you look at increasing the challenge and self-expectation. The same goes for food. Instead of radically altering your diet, pick one or two action points that will move the needle in a positive direction.
Eating a protein source at every meal or committing to having one serving of fruit and vegetables per day is a much more reasonable ask than completely eliminating a certain type of food from your diet or drastically reducing your calorie intake.
Broad, sweeping habits that lack concrete action points are going to lead to - you guessed it - a whole of inaction. The more specific you can be with what you want to accomplish each day, the more likely you are to follow through. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
Which of the habits below is most likely to result in real, consistent action?
“I’m going to exercise more.” or ”I’m going to walk at the park for 20 minutes thrice this week.”?
“I’m going to eat more vegetables.” or “I’m going to eat 200g of vegetables every day.”?
Connect New Habits with Old Ones
Adding an extra step to something you already do is much easier than creating something from scratch. Taking the above example of walking twenty minutes per day as an example, perhaps you could tie that into your 12:30 lunch break at work.
Now, your daily habit of taking a one-hour lunch break at 12:30 becomes forty minutes of eating and socializing with co-workers, which leads to a 20-minute walk to increase your daily exercise. You could even build on that further by adding an additional habit to that event. What an excellent opportunity to add 100g of fresh veggies to your daily intake!
Your Words Matter
Intention without action isn’t going to deliver the desired result, and all of that starts with your words. Your words have power.
“I’ll try to drink 60oz of water per day this week” is a great sentiment. What it lacks is the commitment to get the work done. You’re offering yourself an easy out, and it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance. The word “try” implies intention. However, if we push just one step further to “I will drink 60oz of water per day this week,” we are adding the (most important!) second part of that equation - commitment through massive action!
As much as we’d like to rely on ourselves for accountability, we’re not always the best (and certainly not the only!) person for the job. Thankfully, that’s not something we have to navigate on our own. That’s what friends and family are for—to help support and provide a safety net for when our best intentions don’t quite align with the bar we’ve set for ourselves.
Better yet, working to get this support group actively involved in our new habits can be a true game changer. Whether that’s a new exercise buddy or a partner giving a nudge at the grocery store, every little bit helps.
Developing healthy habits isn’t easy. If it were, everybody would be locked into a lifestyle that supported their long-term wellness. We know that’s not the case! But by leveraging the techniques above, you can get the ball rolling in a positive direction, and who knows what kind of lasting, positive change that momentum will carry into the future.