How to build healthy habits that last

Have you ever thought about how much our daily habits impact our lives? From what we eat to how we spend our free time, our habits shape our identity and direction. But let’s be honest – building positive habits isn’t always easy, especially when lacking motivation, time and commitment. But, whether improving our physical and mental well-being or quitting smoking, these positive changes can improve our lives and help us achieve our goals.

Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of biting off more than they can chew when trying to build healthy habits. Setting overly ambitious goals with an unclear action plan leads to failure and disappointment. But, of course, we all know how that goes – hello, abandoned New Year’s resolutions!

If you’re ready to make lasting changes and become the best version of yourself, join me as we explore the art of habit-building. Together, we’ll learn how to create healthy habits that stick and transform our lives. In addition, this blog will explore the SMART goals-setting method to help you develop and maintain healthy habits in the long term.

1)Setting SMART Goals

The first step in building any habit is to identify precisely which new habit you want to establish; this may sound obvious to you, but often we pick more than one habit at a time, or we are too vague. For example, when you say your goal is to be healthy, fit, or sleep better, you are not being specific. Instead, you are expressing a general goal.

For example, being specific and making a clear and concrete goal can look like saying you want to add big portions of vegetables to each meal or train every morning for 20 minutes for the next 30 days. Once you have identified your desired habit, it is time to create a SMART goal.

SMART stands for:

S Specific: Be clear about what you want to achieve. For example, if you want to start exercising regularly, specify what exercise you want and how often.

MMeasurable: Set a measurable goal so that you can track your progress. For example, if you want to walk regularly, set a target number of minutes or days per week.

AAchievable: Make sure your goal is realistic and achievable. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting a goal that is too difficult to achieve.

R Realistic: Ensure your goal is relevant to your health and wellness. Running a marathon in two months will be unrealistic if you have never run.

T Time-limited: Set a deadline for achieving your goal. This will help you stay focused and motivated.

2)Have a Plan

After SMART goal setting, the next step is creating an action plan because, without a plan, your goal is just a wish. This involves specific steps you will take to achieve your goal, such as the date and time you will perform your new habits. Before you start planning, an important thing to remember is that the new behaviour should be easy and enjoyable to perform because nobody likes it or can stick for too long when something constantly sucks.

For example, if you want to eat healthier, start by reducing sugar and adding more vegetables to each meal rather than following a complicated meal plan with exotic or expensive ingredients that will take you more than an hour to prepare. This doesn’t mean to play small; it means to play smart, so don’t overcomplicate it, keep it simple and easy to maintain.

But let’s be realistic, even if you have SMART goals and a clear and fun plan of action; you will surely experience many days or moments when you don’t feel like it or have the motivation and energy to keep going with your plan. Maybe you had a tough week or unexpected stress at home or feel like eating pizza and ice cream instead of a healthy meal.

My friend, this happens to all of us at some point. Trust me, even the world’s fittest and healthier people experience this, especially at the beginning when the new habit is uncomfortable and demands many changes in your current lifestyle. That is why establishing a realistic routine you can follow over time, not only when you are in the mood and the weather is awesome, is crucial when planning your weekly or monthly habits.

«The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times»— Paulo Coelho

Here are some ideas to help you achieve a realistic and easy plan:

1)Schedule your workouts at the same time every day.
2)Having a plan B and even C when the weather is not optimal or you have little time to work out.
3)Meals prepping on Sundays to avoid wasting time during the week.
4)Keep healthy food and snacks at work and in the car to be prepared in case of unexpected situations that could get in the way of you keeping your eating schedule.

3)How to Keep Yourself Going

The great thing is that new habits will become effortless and automatic after a while. You might not believe it now, and I don’t blame you because it takes, on average, more than two months before a new behaviour becomes automatic — 66 days, to be exact; how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behaviour, the person, and the circumstances, such as the difficulty of the habit, your motivation and time, etc. However, if you are consistent and stick around, it will happen!

Don’t worry if you make mistakes – it’s normal, and you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. Just acknowledge the mistake, be kind to yourself, and get back on track. It is vital to stand up repeatedly, keep going forward and remember that everyone makes mistakes, and we can always learn from them.

«Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new» — Albert Einstein

So, how can you keep yourself going? It all comes down to remembering why you started in the first place. This is crucial because when you have a strong reason for making a change, you will find the inner strength to keep going, even when life gets tough. And let’s face it, life can be unpredictable and often gets in the way of our plans. But what does having a solid reason mean? Well, it’s a reason beyond just wanting to look good or prove something to others. While those are valuable and fun, they may not be enough to create a lasting change. If you want a stick change, you need to think beyond a short-term 30-day sugar-free challenge.

Unfortunately, many people need a big event, like an illness, accident, or breakup, to create a clear and powerful reason for the change. We often don’t make changes because the discomfort of our current habits isn’t strong enough to motivate us. For example, giving up junk food and sugar may benefit our health, but it can be difficult and uncomfortable. It may be easier to continue living as we are, even though it can lead to long-term consequences of insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.

So, the key is to find a strong and meaningful reason for making a change that will motivate you to keep going, even when it’s tough. Remember, it’s okay to stumble along the way; what’s important is to keep your why in mind, be kind to yourself, and keep moving forward.

Here are some tips to help you remember and clarify your why:

1)Write it down. This may take a few tries but trust me, it is worth it.
2)Use a visual reminder like a post-it on the fridge or your mirror. 
3)Share it with your family and friends to help you keep yourself accountable.
4)Record a voice message from yourself to your unmotivated self.
5)Write down the consequences of not changing your current habits.

4) How to Keep the Habits in the Long Term

Now that you know how to build good habits, let’s take a look at some tips for you to maintain your new behaviour in the long term:

1) Consistency is the key

To make your healthy habits stick, you must make them a regular part of your daily routine, incorporate them into your daily schedule, and prioritise them. One of the best ways to stay motivated is to track your progress and use reminders; I like to use the Suunto app to track my training and a to-do list on my phone for daily habits such as meditation; but you could use a journal or habit tracker, whatever works for you, so try different ways and stick to the one you like the most.

2)Find an accountability partner

Accountability partners do just what you think they would – hold you accountable. This is usually someone who has been in your shoes or is going through the same experience; It can be a friend, a family member, or a coworker joining you in developing a healthy habit and achieving your goals. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people with similar goals and interests can be the greatest catalyst to help you maintain your habit.

3)Control your environment

Failing to control your environment is one of the biggest threats to changing an old habit. Make sure your environment supports the changes you want to make. For instance, if you are trying to quit smoking, it is a good idea to get rid of the ashtrays at home or not go outside when your friends take a smoke break at work.

4) Celebrate small wins

Too many people focus only on the outcome instead of celebrating the small wins on the way, forgetting that every step towards the goal matters and is part of the journey. For example, maybe your final goal is to lose 20 kg, so celebrate the hard work you put in every month; a win is simply a victory or success, no matter how small.

5) Set new goals

Consider setting new SMART goals once you have achieved your initial goals; this can help you continue to improve and maintain healthy habits over the long term. Lastly, make sure to enjoy the process. Building healthy habits should be enjoyable; if you don’t enjoy the process, it’s unlikely that you will stick with it long-term. So choose activities that you enjoy and find ways to make them fun.

Final thoughts

Learning something new can be exciting and challenging. Feeling lost and uncertain along the way is normal. However, you can navigate the learning process and achieve your goals with the right tools and mindset. Whenever you need a little help or motivation on your journey, let the tools in this article be your guide. You got this!