How to create new, healthy habits that stick

We all have aspects of our lives that we would like to change. Maybe that’s eating healthier, quitting drinking alcohol or exercising more. Change is never easy. We have all the great intentions to start with, and then four days into the ‘new you,’ you fall off the wagon and decide that you are perfectly OK the way you are…until you aren’t! Sound familiar? Here's how to develop changes that stick:

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We often don’t think of everyday things as habits but they are: teeth brushing, morning coffee, walking to walk, walking the dog at 5pm…these are all habits that you don’t think too much about.

The important part of developing new, healthy habits is to make them a part of your lifestyle rather than a quick fix to get that 'beach body'. How can you develop a new healthy habit that becomes so ingrained into your everyday life that it becomes as automatic as brushing your teeth in the morning?


How to develop a new habit

Attach one habit to another

Let’s just stop and think about teeth brushing. Chances are you brush your teeth either after or before another habit? Maybe you get out of bed, walk to the bathroom, and brush your teeth? Maybe you have your morning coffee and then brush your teeth? The point is that you attach one habit to another, and you do all of this without thinking.

One of the great ways of developing a new healthy habit is by attaching it to another habit that is already automatic. For example, let’s just say that you would like to develop a morning yoga routine. Firstly, having your mat laid out the night before is a reminder to you when you get up to get on the mat and stretch.  

Attaching your morning stretch to another already happening habit will help. Maybe you have a cup of tea and put on your yoga clothes? Or you feed the dog and then get on the mat. Think about what you can attach your habit to. What do you already do every single day without thinking? And when you do get on the mat start with a small session that feels manageable.

Start small

Chances are that if you want to start a daily routine of a jog, you aren’t going to put your running shoes on and do a half marathon! And, if that did happen, it would be unsustainable.  So, start small.  

Maybe start with a short walk every morning after getting out of bed (by the way getting out of bed and getting natural sunlight is incredibly beneficial to our mental wellbeing!) Next, increase the length of the walk; go from a mile to two miles. Maybe after a month of this, you could try a gentle jog for that first mile…and so on. Increasing little by little will help in making sure that you stick with the habit.

Make sure you do the new habit every day

Ensuring that you do the new healthy habit every single day will increase the likelihood that you don’t drop out; especially if you have attached it to an ingrained habit. The new habit will eventually become automatic in this way.  

For example, if you want to start a short meditation practice, choose the time when you are more likely to do it. Maybe you find a short five-minute practice before you go to sleep helps to settle your mind. Think about where you will practice. Is it in your bedroom? Do you have low lighting? Set the mood; turn on your lamp, put on your pj’s, get comfy and make a start. If two minutes is enough, then stick with that and build slowly. And don’t forget to attach it to another habit. Brush your teeth, put on your pj’s and settle in!

Reinforce with reward

We all love rewards for our achievements, don’t we? Sometimes a new healthy habit can feel instantly rewarding; cooking a healthy meal instead of opting for a quick unhealthy fix can taste great and be rewarding enough to do it again the next night. However, if you are trying to lose weight, you don’t always get the same instant gratification, and this can be off-putting. We might lose a few pounds immediately but as soon as our weight plateaus we decide that going to the gym is too hard and we aren’t getting the results that we want, so we give up. So, reward yourself while you are there. Maybe listening to an audible book while on the treadmill is your reward? Or a fresh coffee in the café after a workout is enough to keep you going?  


The sum-up

  • Attach your new habit to an old automatic habit.
  • Start small
  • Do the new habit every day where possible.  Try not to miss more than two days.
  • Reinforce with reward.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, SK23
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Written by Samantha Flanagan, (BA Hons, PGDIP, Registered member of BACP)
Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, SK23

I am a registered member of BACP with a level 7, PGdip in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy. I have been in private practice for five years. I am qualified to work with many issues which: habit changes, abuse, trauma, anxiety, relationships, substance mis-use, developmental trauma, and domestic violence.

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