9 Ways to Make Healthy Habits Stick

9 Ways to Make Healthy Habits Stick

Expert advice to help you form good, life-improving habits that last.

By Leah Maxwell

We’ve addressed how to rid yourself of bad habits, but what about bringing good habits into your life? Need to floss more, read more, jog more, smile more? We asked experts for their best advice on how to form healthy habits that really last. Here, their suggestions for the concrete and practical steps you can take to become the better version of yourself you’ve always hoped for.

1. Be specific. When it comes to changing habits, be as precise as you can when identifying both the problem behavior and the solution. Instead of saying, for instance, “I want to be more organized at the office,” say, “I want to clean off my desk every Friday before I leave work,” suggests author Judith Beck, PhD. The more specific you can be about the activity, frequency, and duration of your plan, the better you’re setting yourself up for success.

2. Put it on your calendar. Carving out time for your new good habit ensures it fits into your schedule and helps make it part of your routine. “When applicable, note in your schedule when you’re going to engage in this behavior,” says Beck. If your goal is to walk for 30 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays at 9 a.m., write it down and treat it like an appointment. Beck recommends creating a reminder system, which might include setting alarms on your phone or taping notes to your bathroom mirror, the dashboard of your car, your refrigerator, or your computer.

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3. Be consistent. Planning out a habit-forming schedule is only half the battle. The other half is following through. If you find yourself saying, “It’s OK to skip it this time,” you’re self-sabotaging. “Remind yourself that every time matters,” says Beck. “Every time you engage in this habit you build up your ‘self-discipline muscle,’ and every time you skip doing it you strengthen your ‘giving-in muscle.’” When you cop out, you’re actually making it harder to stick with your plan in the future.

4. Slip affirmations into your tech routine. Here’s a genius way to keep your goals front and center, from online safety expert and bestselling author Robert Siciliano: “We become what we think about, so from a security/personal growth perspective, I recommend habit-forming passphrases.” Instead of using the same old passwords, find new ones that reflect and affirm your goals, like eaT5moreVeggie$, ISave$daily, 10PullupsNow. Use this clever trick, and your aspirations will never be far from your mind.

5. Start slow. Just as you should take small steps to break a bad habit, take small steps to form a good one. Beck says figure out a reasonable first step instead of setting a goal so high you’re bound to fail. “If you’re a non-exerciser, for example, the first step might be to exercise for 10 to 15 minutes, three times a week, and gradually increase from there,” she says. Committing to a new exercise routine should not involve signing up for a marathon.

6. Find a partner. Outside support can boost your resolve, but having a buddy with a similar goal can help you create real, lasting change. Find someone who doesn’t just encourage you and cheerlead from the sidelines but who engages in the same habit-changing behavior. You’ll both have extra motivation to stick with the plan and someone who can empathize when the going gets tough.

7. Hire a professional. Sometimes you need more than just an enthusiastic friend at your side. If you have trouble keeping your head in the game, or if you need more tools to help you reach your goals, consider inviting a professional to join your team, whether that’s a nutrition coach, a personal trainer, an organizing expert, a business mentor, or a psychologist. Paying someone to help is also a powerful reminder that you can’t afford to not take things seriously.


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8. Focus on the positive. One of the factors most predictive of human behavior is the need to avoid pain and gain pleasure, says Akram Alashari, MD, a doctor at the University of Florida. The most common reason people quit exercise programs is because they associate pain with exercise, he says. And the same is true for other good habits that might feel uncomfortable at first.

The good news is that people can use this trait to their advantage by working to associate exercise, for instance, with pleasure. For some, that might mean finding more enjoyable ways to exercise (like dancing or swimming instead of running), and for others, it might mean focusing more on the pleasure of the results -- improved body image, increased energy, increased appeal to a romantic partner, etc. -- instead of on the immediate discomfort of an activity. “By utilizing the pain/pleasure technique, there is no need for willpower ... because the habit is now pleasurable to the individual,” Alashari explains.

9. Remind yourself why you’re doing it. “Make a list of all the reasons you want to achieve this goal, and read this list every day until you’re confident that you have established the habit,” says Beck. Even after the habit is formed, keep the list so you can reread it whenever you need to reinvigorate your sense of purpose. Before your habit can become habitual, it will be a choice you need to make each and every time. Remind yourself of the rewards you’re seeking and it will be an easier choice to make.

What good habits do you want to from?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/digitalskillet

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