How To Add a New, Healthy Habit to Your Life   

How To Add a New, Healthy Habit to Your Life

People jogging to be healthy.

January 05, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Meha Halari, M.D.

For many people, the new year feels like a clean slate: It can be a time to ditch unwanted habits, like overeating or being sedentary.

Whether you’re hoping to exercise more, eat less junk food or cut back on your alcohol intake, you’ll have greater success if you have a concrete action plan and take a series of small steps, rather than trying to make sweeping changes based on vague ideas about what you plan to do.

“It’s much easier to reach your goal if you tell yourself, ‘I’m going to try to lose 10 pounds this year by going for a walk after breakfast every morning and by choosing water whenever anyone offers me soda,’ rather than telling yourself, ‘I’m going to lose a lot of weight this year by eating better,’” says family medicine physician, Meha Halari, M.D. “It’s key to be specific with your intentions and to make small changes that are easy to adopt.”

If you want a healthy new habit to become second-nature, try these ideas:

Play it “smart”

Experts say that the acronym “SMART” makes it easier for people to achieve goals. 

Goals should be:

  • Specific: What do you plan to accomplish (losing 10 pounds), and in what time frame (6 months)? What actions will you take to ensure that you follow through on your goal? 
  • Measurable: How many times a week will you walk, and for how many minutes?
  • Attainable: Is it possible for you to achieve your goal if you set your mind to it? Losing 10 pounds over 6 months may work, but losing 50 pounds in the same time frame isn’t realistic. Going from sedentary to running a 5K may be achievable, but attempting your first marathon may not be.
  • Relevant: Figure out why your goal is important to you. For, example, will becoming more physically active make it easier for you to keep up with your toddler?
  • Trackable: How will you know if you’ve met your goal? If you want to lose 10 pounds, when your scale shows that you’ve lost that much weight, you’ll have succeeded. If you make a vague plan to lose weight, you’ll never know if you’ve reached your goal, and you may give up.

Piggyback onto an existing habit

Do you always have coffee in the morning or take shower before bedtime? You’re more likely to successfully change your routine if you can latch a new behavior onto an existing one, rather than trying to remember to include a new behavior in your schedule at some point during the day.

Choose something that you truly do every day – like going to the bathroom after you wake up – rather than something that you try to do every day but actually don’t – like taking a walk at lunchtime (which you may skip if it’s raining or if your boss schedules a lunchtime meeting).

Make a new rule, and stick with it: For example, after you wake your kids up, you’ll eat an apple. Or after you get out of bed and use the bathroom, you’ll do 10 sit-ups.

Go with “if, then” planning

Plans never go perfectly, despite good intentions. You may feel too lazy to go to the gym, or you may feel like eating dessert after a stressful day, even though these things aren’t on the agenda. Having an “if, then” plan in place may help you automatically follow behaviors that should help you reach your goal. 

For example, if you go to the fridge for dessert after dinner, then you will grab an orange. Or if you don’t feel like going to the gym, then you’ll go anyway, but you’ll allow yourself to leave after five minutes if you aren’t motivated to stay.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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