how to make healthy habits stick

Just how do you make healthy habits stick? If you feel like it’s a never-ending battle, this post is just what you need. Let’s look at how you can build, and stick to, healthy habits without feeling overwhelmed.

Healthy habits, such as good sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy, balanced diet improve our wellbeing and levels of happiness. Bad habits, on the other hand, do the opposite, often leading to increased stress and anxiety. 

Supposedly, it takes three weeks for a habit to form. If you’ve made big changes lately - such as eating more vegetables or doing daily yoga - you’ll either feel excited to keep going, or you’ll have hit the point where the novelty has worn off and therefore, so has your momentum.  

When you get past this inevitable barrier, you’ll find that your new habit becomes second nature, and it will feel weird if you don’t eat more vegetables or do daily yoga. 

To help you stay healthy physically and mentally, here are some tips on how to develop new habits that stick: 

take it one step at a time 

Overhauling everything in your life at the same time is really hard to stick to. Doing too much at once means we can lose focus and not give each habit the attention it needs to fully develop. 

Instead, start off slowly by adding in one healthy habit at a time. This will increase your chances of success. 

Once your first step - such as doing five minutes of exercise a day, drinking two litres of water a day, or even just using the stairs instead of the lift - has become a part of your routine, you can consider adding in another. 

Adopting new habits this slow may sound tedious, but it’s the best way to build and maintain healthy habits long term. 

lean on your support network 

Like anything worth doing, developing a healthy habit is hard. A little moral support can go a long way to helping you stick to your new habits. 

If you’re surrounded by people who still lead an unhealthy lifestyle, it’s harder for you to maintain your habits. 

So why not encourage your loved ones to join in and make positive changes with you? It’ll increase your chances of success and deepen your relationships as you learn new things together. 

Your loved ones are on your side, and many will happily be an accountability buddy. That may be all they need to keep up with their new habits, too. 

be consistent 

The more you do something, the quicker it will feel like a natural part of your routine.  

For example, the more you work out before breakfast, the sooner you’ll automatically get up and start exercising first thing. 

It’ll start to feel alien if you don’t do it, and if you skip your morning exercise for any reason, you’ll feel compelled to make up for it later so that you don’t break your routine. 

learn from setbacks 

Setbacks are a natural part of anything in life and should be used as a learning curve instead of a roadblock.  

If you drop the ball, don’t be hard on yourself. What could you do differently next time so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes? 

Every day is a new opportunity to succeed so take it one day at a time.  

celebrate your successes 

Celebrating even the smallest wins can be good for our mental health. After a daily exercise session, you could reward yourself with your favourite breakfast or an episode of your favourite TV show.  

A daily tracking app, or even a wall calendar, may also help. You can tick off every time you exercise or eat five or more portions of fruit and veg a day. The longer your streak, the more your brain won’t want to break the chain. The more you see it, the stronger your desire to not break the chain will be. 

All these things will help your brain to associate healthy habits with positive emotions. Over time, you may not need to do these things as much - your brain will learn to associate your new healthy habits with those same positive feelings. 

reduce barriers 

The easier it is to do something, the more likely we are to do it. If the first thing we see when we open the fridge is a chocolate cake, we’re more likely to reach for that than a tub of blueberries. 

So, make it as easy as possible to stick to your new habits. You could: 

  • have a bottle of water on your desk that tracks how much you’ve drunk throughout the day. Some even come with encouraging phrases on the side! 
  • decide what exercise you’re going to do, and put your gym clothes out, the night before. 
  • put healthier foods at the front of the fridge and cupboards. 
  • put supplements and any medication on your desk or bedside table - wherever you’re most likely to see them so that you take them when you need them. 
  • set a reminder on your phone to take the action you need to at a certain time of day. 

think about what’s holding you back 

Why are you really not adopting - or sticking to - healthy habits? 

Is it because you see food as a source of comfort? Do you see exercise as a form of torture? 

Finding the causes of your barriers will help you to overcome them so that sticking to your healthier habits is easier long term. 

make room for your new habits 

Clear your diary for 20 minutes and turn off notifications so that they can’t distract you - or stop you - from your new routine.  

Sometimes it only takes one notification for us to lose those 20 minutes we could’ve spent preparing a meal in bulk, or stretching our joints. 

get enough sleep 

Getting enough sleep will make it much easier for you to embrace healthy habits. Sleep deprivation not only has negative effects on our physical and mental health, but it can also make us less likely to eat healthily and want to exercise. 

If you’re struggling to sleep, try a guided meditation apps such as Calm or Headspace.

how we can support you 

As an occupational charity, we help the ICAEW community thrive by equipping individuals with the practical, emotional, or financial tools to manage whatever’s in front of them, from everyday situations to exceptional life-changing circumstances.  

Our vision is that everyone in the ICAEW community can fully participate in life. 

All of our services are free, impartial and strictly confidential.  

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