Making healthy choices is so important in helping us feel energized and live a high quality life. This means making choices like eating better, getting more physical activity or sleep, quitting smoking, or simply having a better way to manage stress. Making these choices can take a lot of willpower, making them pretty hard to keep from day to day. Once the initial excitement of setting a goal or making a new choice settles, you may be wondering how you are going to be able successfully stick with a newer healthy living choice.
Healthy choices are best when they’re habits.
It’s frustrating to have setbacks when you’re trying to make healthy changes and achieve a goal. What’s promising is that decades of research reveal that change is achievable and there are proven strategies you can use to set yourself up for success.
All the daily choices you make impact your well-being and quality of life. The ones you can control are of course right now and in the future. When you choose healthy habits you lower your risk for preventable health problems that are currently ravaging this world—including heart problems, depression, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. When you take the right approach, the process is actually quite simple.
Live healthy, live longer.
If you have a lot of poor health habits, don’t get overwhelmed trying to change too much at once. The good news is that making only a few changes in your lifestyle will help you live longer and healthier.
While there are a few health factors that can’t be controlled (like your age, environmental exposures, or gender), there is a large majority of your health that you are 100% in control of. Even when a health issue is genetic or hereditary, that is just one more reason to make sure you’re doing all you can to stay healthy.
Start with the obvious choices.
Where to start with making health gains should be pretty straight forward. They key is to start. A new study discovered that four bad behaviors – smoking, drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, not exercising, and not consuming enough fruits and veggies—can hustle you into an early grave, and, in effect, age you by as much as 12 years. If you’re still not sure where to start here is a full list of ideas:
Healthy habits you can adopt today:
- Healthy diet and exercise
- Better sleep habits
- Healthy relationships and building a strong social network
- Regular relaxation and mindfulness
- Finding a work-life balance
- Improving time management skills
- Assertive and productive communication
- Stress management (See all the GREEN options on our site, they all help stress!)
If motivation and willpower aren’t working for you, there is another way!
Once you begin any new self-improvement program, your enthusiasm is at its peak and you’re motivated from the happiness of what you want or the pain of what you don’t want. However, unfortunately motivation reduces with time.
As soon as your motivation wanes, you rely more on willpower. But nobody comes with an endless supply of willpower. It’s a resource that gets “used up”. Each time you will yourself do something that you do not actually want to do, you use up some willpower. Every temptation you avoid exhausts your willpower reserve.
By evening, you might find you have no willpower left. This is exactly why many people blow their diet later in the day after eating healthy all day.
By consciously deciding to make a new habit, you are able to harness the power of your unconscious to make a new neural pathway. Once a new habit is set up in the brain it becomes easy to do and motivation and willpower are no more required!
What is a habit anyways?
A habit is a behavior that has been repeated so many times that it has become automatic. You have completed a particular task so many times that the brain now assumes that it is a normal part of your routine. It is now so ingrained into your day that you don’t even realize there is a choice to be made. This is ultimately what we want to build for all our health goals and plans.
How do I create a healthy habits?
Make small changes first.
The mind and body do not work well with processing and keeping big or remarkable changes. It can be too much for it to process all at once and will guarantee eventual failure as you run out of willpower. It is always better to start with small easily management steps.
Each change can be a step toward a larger goal.
This doesn’t mean you can’t make big health goals. However, make sure you break the goal up into small steps that you can complete one at a time with success. For instance, if you intend to eat better, adjust only your breakfast or take away one unhealthy food item at first. Or if you want to start exercising, begin with 2 or 3 workouts a week for only 10 minutes. If you wish to work on anger management, pay attention to speaking softly and not raising your voice for a 4-hour period throughout the day. The options are limitless.
A trigger is something that leads you to automatically doing something else. Some smokers, as an example, are triggered to smoke after having a meal. Use triggers to your benefit. If you commit to always meditating after breakfast, after a couple of weeks you’ll automatically think of meditating after your morning meal.
Visual triggers work nicely, too. Laying your workout clothes on the bed each day or doing healthy food prep can make a health a way of life automatic rather than a choice that you have to make daily.
Track your progress.
It can be hard to notice the progress you’re making when you are taking it slow. This is where simply taking note of the “healthy habit of the week” on a piece of paper can be helpful. You can write down how you’re feeling as you maintain a habit or simply keep track of whether you kept up with the habit daily as you intended.
For a more calculated formula, each day you can add a 1 if you did, and a “minus 1,” if you didn’t complete your tasks. By the end of the week, calculate the totals. You’ll be able to see your progress at a glance with this simple approach.
There are tons of different ideas on how long it takes for a habit to stick. Research shows a range of 18 to 254 days . The key is stick with a health goal consistently and repetitively until it is truly automated. Automation literally changes your brain pathways, which takes times. But don’t worry, if you ever fall off the wagon the progress you did make will make it easier to pick up where you left off.
Start your routine early.
The morning is a great time to start incorporating a healthy habit. Exercise or stretch in the morning when your willpower is high. You’ll reap the benefits all day long! Make a healthy dinner ahead so you don’t come home starved with nothing to eat. This will help build strong habits that you can keep easily. Plus, we tend to be more focused and driven after a restful night of sleep so take full advantage with your health!
Be sure you have all you need to ensure your success. If you intend to start a walking program, buy comfortable walking shoes and a pedometer. Those who wear a pedometer walk 27% more than those who don’t! If you want to change your diet, start making a weekly meal plan or buy a cook book that interests you. The preparation should be fun and get you excited for your new health goal and habit building.
Make it fun.
If you don’t enjoy doing something you aren’t likely to stick to it. Find ways to make your lifestyle change as enjoyable as possible. Exercise with a buddy, learn how to cook healthy meals that are delicious or look for a meditation program that resonates with you. We all have different interests, hopes and dreams. Find a group or way of healthy living that you can really enjoy. After all, life is about fulfillment and joy!
Health is not a destination, it’s a journey.
Every step you take can help you along the path of health – you only have to get started.
This approach may appear slower than making extreme changes, but resist the urge to take on too much. If you’re persistent, you will start to notice significant changes in your lifestyle and perceptions.
Be persistent and patient.
The important thing is allowing the inner changes to take place at the right pace. It is a powerful method for allowing your subconscious mind to adequately process with your conscious mind and actions.
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I would love to hear about your experience once you try these tips. You’re on the way to making permanent habit changes!