Author: Kate Higham
As the calendar flips to a new year, there's often a surge of fresh energy and determination to enhance our health and well-being. We're full of ambitious plans and resolutions, ready for positive life changes. Yet, studies have shown nearly half of New Year's resolutions fail (1).
Why is it so challenging to make these resolutions stick? And how can we turn our good intentions into lasting habits? The key lies in understanding the science behind habit formation.
How we form habits
Every time we repeat an activity, our brain works behind the scenes to make it more of a natural, almost automatic action. This incredible process is known as neural plasticity. Our brain is building shortcuts, turning these repeated actions into habits.
According to research, a new activity typically takes around 66 days to settle into a habit (2). However, this timeframe isn't set in stone—it varies based on individual differences and the specific habit in question.
The takeaway here is patience. If you're working on developing a new habit, remember that it's a gradual process. It might feel slow, but your brain adapts to make this new behavior more natural. So, keep at it, and know that each repeated action is a step closer to forming a lasting habit.
The 3-Step Habit Loop
In his insightful book "The Power of Habit," Charles Duhigg introduces a straightforward yet powerful concept: the 3-Step Habit Loop (3). This loop is fundamental to how habits are formed and maintained in our brains and consists of three critical components:
- The Cue: Think of the cue as a trigger or a signal. It's the thing that kick-starts the habit loop. This could be a time of day, a particular feeling, or an environment that signals your brain to begin a specific habit.
- The Routine: The routine is the habit itself. It's the behavior you perform in response to the cue. This can be an action (like going for a jog), a mental activity (such as meditating), or an emotional response (like reaching for comfort food when stressed).
- The Reward: The reward is what your brain gets out of the habit. It's the positive reinforcement that makes the habit stick. This could be the feeling of satisfaction after a workout, the calmness from a meditation session, or the comfort of eating your favorite food. The reward is crucial because it tells your brain, “This feels good. Let’s do it again and remember this loop for next time”.
To demonstrate how the habit loop works, imagine you're trying to develop a habit of jogging every morning. The cue might be your alarm clock ringing at 6 AM. The routine is the jog itself. And the reward? That could be the endorphin rush you feel after jogging or the sense of accomplishment from sticking to your goal. As this loop is repeated over time, the habit of morning jogging becomes more ingrained in your brain, making it easier to maintain.
7 tips for building healthy habits in 2024
Embarking on the journey to better health can be exciting and daunting. Here are seven practical tips to help you succeed.
Tip #1: Start with small changes
The key to long-term success starts with small, achievable steps. Studies indicate that a new behavior typically takes about 66 days to become automatic (2). Therefore, begin with modest changes rather than attempting an overnight lifestyle overhaul. This could be as simple as adding vegetables to your dinner or taking a short walk each morning. Small changes are less intimidating and more likely to become permanent parts of your life.
Tip #2: Set clear, achievable goals
Vague resolutions like "get healthy" are hard to quantify and achieve. Instead, set specific and measurable goals. For example, aim to walk 10,000 steps a day or keep a daily health tracker. Clear goals provide a direct path to follow and make it easier to track your progress.
Tip #3: Establish a cue-routine-reward system
Habits stick when they form a loop. Start by setting a consistent cue, such as an alarm or a specific time of day, followed by the desired activity, like a morning jog or yoga session. Conclude with a reward, something enjoyable that will make the experience satisfying, such as a delicious smoothie or a relaxing shower. This cycle reinforces the habit, making it more likely to stick.
Tip #4: Monitor your progress
Tracking your progress is incredibly motivating. LetsGetChecked offers a convenient way to monitor various health metrics, providing a sense of achievement and a visual representation of your improvements. Seeing tangible results can boost your motivation to continue.
Tip #5: Be patient and persistent
Building new habits is a gradual process. It’s important to be patient with yourself and persist even when progress seems slow. Consistency is crucial; for instance, if you’re trying to improve your diet, choose one healthy meal each day.
Tip #6: Seek support and accountability
A strong support system can significantly enhance your ability to stick with your goals. Sharing your objectives with friends, family, or online communities can provide additional motivation and a sense of accountability. It can also be good to review your goals with a healthcare provider. LetsGetChecked offers professional support through virtual consultations, guiding you through your health journey with expert advice.
Tip #7: Understand your ‘why’
Connecting your habit to a deeper purpose enhances your commitment to it. This could be anything from improving your health to having more energy to play with your kids or managing your weight to feel better in your skin. Ultimately, a meaningful ‘why’ is a powerful motivator, especially during challenging times.
LetsGetChecked: Helping you build healthier habits in 2024
LetsGetChecked is here to help you achieve your 2024 health and well-being goals. We offer services like convenient health screenings, virtual consultations, and help with weight management.
Regular health screenings with us can be a great reminder of your health goals. They're like a nudge to keep you on track. Plus, you can communicate with health experts through our virtual consultations. They'll give you advice and plans that are just right for you.
The best part? You can track your progress with our home testing kits. Watching your health improve with these tests can be rewarding and motivate you to stick to healthy habits.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Making health habitual: the psychology of habit-formation and general practice. Online. ncbi.gov
- Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House.