It takes time to form a healthy routine. According to researcher James Clear, it takes an average of 66 days to build a new habit. That’s just over two months of repeating the same action each day. And in some cases, it can take anywhere from 18 days to more than 250.
But the important part isn’t really how long it takes to build a habit. It’s all about what habit you’re building in the first place and why it matters to you.
Let’s talk about what kinds of healthy habits are worth building and how to build them to last.
First off, what do we mean when we say “healthy habit”? We mean any routine action you can take to improve your health and wellness. This can look like:
- Brushing and flossing your teeth
- Eating nutritious, balanced meals
- Wearing sunscreen
- Getting regular physical activity (especially the kind that gets your heart pumping)
- Weighing yourself
- Sleeping 7-9 hours
- Practicing stress relief (like meditation, mindfulness exercises, prayer, tai chi, etc.)
- Taking your medication as prescribed
- If you have a chronic condition, checking your body’s numbers (like blood sugar or blood pressure)
Doing these habits every day, or nearly every day, is proven to help people prevent disease. These habits are also proven to help people lose weight, manage conditions and even live longer!
How to practice a habit
Now you have an idea about what habits you can start. But where do you begin? There are a few different ways you can get into a routine. Consider some of the following ideas:
- Set a SMART goal – Saying “I want to lose weight” is a common intention. But it’s not really a goal. So make it SMART! You’re more likely to stick with a goal if it’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. Click here to learn more about how you can set a SMART goal for yourself.
- Start small – It’s easy to dive in at the beginning when we have more motivation. But we can quickly get overwhelmed if we take on too much too soon. Whatever habit you’d like to begin, start small, then build up over time. Maybe cooking seven healthy dinners each week is a lot to start with. But maybe you’re ready to cook, say, three healthy dinners each week. Or you can use the FITT principle for building up your exercise over time.
- Try “habit stacking” – It’s easier to adopt a healthy habit when you pair it with something you already do. That’s why psychologist S. J. Scott coined the term “habit stacking.” For instance, you could take a walk while you have your weekly phone call with a friend. Or do calf raise exercises while you brush your teeth each morning. Or put on sunscreen after you dry off from the shower. Or build in some healthy meal planning before your weekly grocery trip. The combinations are endless!
- Find a buddy – Support makes everything easier. As you make healthy changes, consider finding someone who might join you. A gym buddy, a walking club with coworkers, a healthy meal plan with your partner, you name it. Just make sure you talk about sticking with your goals even if the other person can’t.
- Make it fun – You’re more likely to stick with a new habit if you actually like it. So find ways to enjoy healthy habits themselves and not just their results. Fill your meals with your favorite non-starchy veggies. Pick physical activities that bring you joy. Practice stress relief in a way that you look forward to. Map out a good bedtime routine that makes you excited to go to bed and get a full night’s sleep.
How to make it last
It’s always possible to form a habit! Unfortunately, habits can also be broken. The key is to stick with it. It’s much easier to keep a habit going rather than stopping and starting up again. Just like it’s easier to keep a wheel spinning than it is to try and move it once it’s come to a halt.
- Don’t give in to all-or-nothing traps – Remember, a slip is not the same as a relapse. If you get off track, think of it as a temporary setback. It’s not a total failure. Just acknowledge the fact that things didn’t go according to plan, and get back on track. Learn from that bump in the road and change the plan to avoid future slips.
- Track your success – Document your hard work with a journal, a food log, a step tracker or some other tool that you enjoy. Yes, even if it takes longer than expected or doesn’t look the way you thought it would. Looking back on how far you’ve come can help fill you with pride!
- Find your community – You’re not alone! No matter what healthy habit you’re trying to start, other people are working on that same routine. Connect with people at work, in your family, at your local community center or gym, or even online. Our coaches are also here to support you. If you have access to coaching, schedule a session today!
- Reward your hard work – Find healthy rewards to treat yourself for a job well done. And be sure to celebrate your wins, no matter how big or small. You deserve credit for all your hard work.
In the end, the most important part is to simply keep trying. Keep learning. Keep experimenting until you find a groove that works for you. Over time, you can look forward to some powerful changes in your life—and your health!