New Year, New Habits

How to Create Habits That Stick

A new year is a fresh start and a great time to focus on creating (or re-establishing) healthy habits! Use these tips for making your new habits stick.

Anchor Your New Habits

Much of our daily life is taken up by habits that we have formed over our lifetime. Habits can be almost automatic, meaning we do not even recognize that we are doing them. One of the more effective ways to add a new habit to your routine is to anchor it to an existing behavior you consistently do. For most of us brushing our teeth in the morning is a habit we established long ago, and something we rarely give much thought. The habit of brushing your teeth is anchored to the act of waking up in the morning: “Every day after I wake up, I brush my teeth.”

A habit anchor is a simple, yet powerful, tool to help new habits stick.

Example: Follow these three steps to anchor a new habit.

  • Make a list of existing habits that you perform every day around the same time. Waking up, going to bed, showering, getting dressed, eating lunch…these are all great examples of things most of us do daily.
  • Pick an anchor from your list of options that best corresponds with the little habit you want to add.
  • Write down your little habit as a statement along with your anchor:
    1. “After I turn on the coffee pot in the morning, I will drink an 8 oz glass of water.”
    2. “After I eat lunch, I will go on a 5-minute walk.”
    3. “After I buckle my seat belt, I will take three deep breaths.”
    4. “After I put on my pajamas, I will read 10 pages of my book.”

ARM Yourself for Success

Lack of motivation is one of the most cited barriers to change, this is especially true after the shine of a new year wears off. How do we keep ourselves motivated for weeks, months, and years after we decide to make a change? Contrary to popular believe, action precedes motivation. This means that starting with a small, simple act can lead to feelings of motivation, and ultimately inspire you to keep going.

ARM yourself for change by using the Action-Results-Motivation model. The trick to the ARM method for building habits is to make the initial action small. Make it so small that you have no excuse not to do it.

Starting with a small, consistent action is the key to building momentum, and ultimately, motivation.

Example: If you want to start walking 30 minutes a day, you can begin by creating a habit to take a 5-minute walk after lunch.

  • Action: Take a 5-minute walk after lunch.
  • Results: I notice that I feel more alert, energized, and ready for my afternoon. I also get a burst of pride when I cross it off as “complete” on my to-do list.
  • Motivation: Knowing how I will feel after my 5-minute walk motivates me to keep doing it daily and increase my walking time.

Before you know it, you have incorporated this small walking habit into your routine and are consistently extending your walks until you reach your goal of 30 minutes a day.

Lose the All or Nothing Thinking

When you engage in all or nothing thinking, you assess situations in extreme terms. You think you will either be a total success or a total failure. This is an inaccurate way of thinking because life is not black and white – it’s grey. It is far too easy to get stuck on the notion that if we can’t do something perfectly, it’s not worth doing. That is simply not true! We often find success when we embrace the squishiness that is the middle ground. If your car ran out of gas, would you refuse a partial gallon from an emergency gas can simply because it wouldn’t be enough to fill the entire tank? NO! The same idea applies to behavior change.

Consider all the ways you could work toward your goals, no matter how imperfect the strategies may seem. Something is always better than nothing. Take time to celebrate even the tiniest, most imperfect, success!

Example: Avoid all or nothing thinking by finding success in small ways.

  • Maybe you don’t have time for an hour walk…but you can take a 5-minute walk.
  • Maybe the only thing in the refrigerator for dinner is leftover pizza…but you can add some broccoli you found in the freezer on the side.
  • Maybe you lost your temper at your kids because you are stressed…but you can still apologize and practice some deep breaths together.

Goal Setting

Resolutions are easy to make but hard to follow through with. This is because most resolutions (I want to get healthy. I want to lose weight. I want to be more organized. I want to save more money.) are too vague and do not incorporate concrete actions. Effectively developed goals on the other hand, are specific, finite, and help you stay focused on your desired outcome.

  • You can set a goal for almost anything! Whether you are training for a race, trying to eat more vegetables, or saving for a big purchase, making your goals SMART sets you up for success!
  • Be purposeful in your goal setting. Choose a small number of objectives that are the most important to you. A goal should include a metric that lets you know you have accomplished it.
  • It is easier to stick to a new behavior with a supportive network. Accountability can be motivating and is critical for success. Tell friends, family, and co-workers about your goals and ask them for support.