Habits aren’t formed overnight. Here are tips for building healthy habits successfully.
People are definitely creatures of habit, but new behaviors don’t just happen overnight. Making a change for the better requires focus, energy, and time. In fact, a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests habit formation takes about 66 days on average, though some participants reported much shorter and longer trajectories.
“It takes anywhere between 30 and 60 repetitions to solidify a new habit,” says Jamie Dana, MC, LPC, a psychotherapist and owner of Elevate Counseling in Glendale, AZ. “But there are some simple shifts that can make these new habits stick a little easier.”
Whether your journey takes a few weeks or months, use these strategies for success throughout the habit formation process.
At the beginning of the process:
Make small shifts.
“Many people try to do too much at once and then find that they can't sustain the changes,” says Dana. For example, you may want to eliminate all sugary foods from your diet to improve your oral health. But it’s wiser to start by eliminating full-sugar soft drinks and take it from there. Manageable tasks will help you build momentum to make your new habit last, explains Sana.
Pick habits that fit your personality.
Motivation and purpose are important so be sure to choose a broad category for improvement (health, finances, family, etc) and then select a habit that fits your lifestyle. “If you don't have the time, energy or interest in sticking with a habit, you will ultimately lack follow through,” says Dana. Part of this is knowing your strengths and playing to them. If you are a night owl, for instance, don’t try working out at 5 AM everyday. “Really look at your day-to-day responsibilities and choose habits that won't be thwarted by your lifestyle,” says Dana.
Prepare for obstacles.
Building a healthy habit won’t be all sunshine and rainbows. Dana suggests considering the “antecedents,” or the environments or preceding events that lead to a specific behavior. Think about what could thwart your new healthy habit and how you will stay the course. “Preplanning and having responses to anticipated obstacles helps you to be a responder rather than a reactor,” says Dana.
Midway through the process:
Have fun with your habit.
Incorporating fun into the good habit equation is super important. “We don't stick to things that don't satisfy us on some level,” says Dana.
Say you want to focus on improving your oral care, and you want to get in the habit of brushing twice (or more) a day for two minutes. Instead of treating tooth brushing like a chore, use Aquafresh products, which combine scientific performance with a fun look, feel, and taste to deliver a cleaner, fresher way to a healthy mouth.
Add new habits to already established ones.
According to Dana, it's much easier to maintain a new habit when you incorporate it into an already established routine. “A good example of this would be to do stretches while brushing your teeth or checking your social media while walking on a treadmill, if you have the balance,” says Dana. If you are already doing one thing regularly and can link something else to that activity, you may find it easier to do both consistently.
Tweak good habits to make them great.
“It's much easier to change something when you already have momentum,” says Dana. For example, if you are already working out, it's easier to add another exercise day per week than to start a new habit cold turkey. “Building on what you are already doing has compounding returns,” says Dana.
Towards the end of the process:
Take time to reflect on your habit.
“Regular reflection helps us to remember how awesome we are, and it also helps us to have a growth mindset,” says Dana. “Recognizing that we've been successful in making change in the past helps us to trust that we can overcome other difficult obstacles in the future.” In other words, acknowledging your successes and challenges building one habit can give you confidence for tackling another.
Reevaluate your habit regularly.
Life happens, and you’ll need to take stock of your habits from time to time to see if they’re still working for you and your overall goals. “Some habits are for a lifetime, and other habits will need to change based on our positions in life,” says Dana. “Be flexible and make adjustments when needed.”