By now, many people have either forgotten about their New Year’s resolutions or just given up on them. Pledging to be more healthy this year is a great idea, especially if it’s what you really want. Then why is it so hard to get on a healthy kick? More importantly, what can you do to get healthy habits that can last a lifetime?
Why Habits Fail
The problem is that many people expect to make a huge change in their lives without much effort. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “Yeah, I’ll just hit the gym a few times a week this year,” then you know what that sounds like. Here are a few reasons why such a change is hard to do.
Too much focus on a goal: Sometimes, being healthy is so enticing that you forget to plan how to get there. If you’re thinking about losing 25 pounds to look awesome in that wedding dress, that’s a great motivator — but it’s not a plan. It’s a goal. You still need to change your unhealthy habits or you’ll never get there.
Going too far at the start: Often, people go too far and try to change everything at once. You might think that you need to make an extreme change, and that could be true. But any plan that includes dropping all snacks and desserts when you’ve been enjoying both every day for years is doomed to fail. Your mind isn’t ready for such a drastic change.
Tricks To Getting Healthy Habits
Don’t worry, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You just need to focus on three tricks to help get those healthy habits to stick around.
Start with small, concrete changes to your daily routine: Don’t worry about the goal yet. That will happen if you follow the right steps to get there. Instead, create a list of concrete, actionable tasks. Don’t bother with vague plans like, “I’ll eat fewer calories,” because what does that mean in your day-to-day life? What changes are you able to make that leads to fewer calories?
If you can mentally mark off a checkbox with it, then it’s more likely to become a habit over time. “I will stop ordering that 600-calorie frappuccino and get a plain, unsweetened cup of coffee instead” is something you can clearly see and do. (Or not do, as the case might be.)
Focus on your most unhealthy habit: Have you ever tried carrying in every bag from a huge grocery store trip? Even if you manage to not drop stuff, it's probably not good for your back or hands. That’s why you need to stop trying to change all your unhealthy habits — it’s just too much to do at once. Instead, pick your worst habit and change it.
If your goal is to be happier, don’t try cutting out everything that makes you sad. Find the one thing that really gets in the way of happiness and change that. Wait until the change sticks, then move on to something else.
Spend more time with people who already have healthy habits: Doing something occasionally is not a habit. You need to do it repeatedly over time or it’s not a habit. But that gets hard to do when the people around you are doing the exact opposite.
If drinking too much beer is the unhealthy habit you want to change, hitting the bar with your drinking buddies is a bad idea. You don’t need to stop being friends with people, but at least until the habit is established, spend more time with those who already have those healthy habits. Let peer pressure actually work for you.
Remember that you already have unhealthy habits. You’re not starting with a blank slate. That’s why getting healthy habits is tough. By staying focused on actionable changes, targeting your worst habit first, and surrounding yourself with supportive people, you can make those New Year resolutions turn into lifelong, healthy habits.
Paige Johnson calls herself a fitness nerd. She prides in doing strength training, cycling, and yoga. She is a personal trainer and regular contributor to LearnFit.org.