Building Healthy Habits for Long Term Success

Have you ever looked envious at someone who always seems to show up to the gym, gets in their daily run or eats healthy all the time.  We know that if we want to get into shape we need to move more, lift weights, eat the right number of calories and protein.  So why does it sometimes feel hard to do it?

Why do we throw ourselves into a new fitness regime or diet plan only to give up after a few weeks?  Many of us by nature are looking for the easy option and when we’re under stress or time is short it may feel easier to grab a takeaway or skip our workout.

So what are the people who seem to have it sorted doing that is different? Well research suggests one factor may be that they have focused on changing everyday habits so that their new daily actions are automatic.

Habits are formed through repetition, often in response initially to a situation or event. Typically habits involve us processing or interpreting a situation, taking an action triggered by the specific event or situation and then receiving some sort of reward as a result.

For example you have had a bad day at work – you come back feeling tired and low. You reach for a glass of wine and get a pleasurable response. Over time the repetition of these events makes it habitual and in turn harder to change.

While having clear health and weight loss goals can certainly help with building habits. Once you have set your goals you need to deliberately work to build habits that help you achieve those goals.  The more frequently you do these habits the more automatic it becomes. Over time the less you actually think about these habits and the easier they feel.

If you are looking to make lasting changes to improve your diet and lifestyle building daily habits is what will get results.

Want to lose weight – try building in the habit of weighing yourself frequently. One study for example found that those who were successful in losing weight long term made a habit of weighing themselves frequently. They also found that having a more regular meal eating pattern was also beneficial for long term success.

How to build healthier habits

Overcoming Obstacles

Remember your goals and how to overcome obstacles. Sometimes this is called implementation intentions.  Rather than just focusing on the goal consider how you are going to achieve it and what you will do when certain obstacles come your way.

For example you have been invited out to a restaurant – how will you avoid blowing your diet? What dishes will you choose and what will you avoid

You have to go travelling for work and will miss your gym sessions – what can you do instead?

It is important to have contingency plans for what you’ll do when you are unable to stick to your main plan.

Make small consistent changes

Don’t attempt to change everything in one go – a new fitness programme, a completely new eating plan. Scale back and make small specific changes.

For example try changing your breakfast initially – maybe swap that cereal for a protein shake. Batch cook a few recipes so that you have options for when you are tired or busy. Use your lunchtime break for a walk or to plan your evening meal.

Temptation Bundling

Another popular tactic is to pair up an activity that you already enjoy with something you want to include that your not so keen on. For example if you have a stationary bike or stepper at home but don’t really enjoy using it why not put on your favourite film to watch while you work out.

Perhaps you can meet up with a friend for a chat while you both go for a walk or exercise class?

If you’re batch cooking meals but you find it tedious listen to a podcast or put on your favourite music.

Breaking Bad Habits

It’s not just new healthy habits you need to work on. For many of us breaking bad habits is just as important. It can be too easy to slip back into your old ways. One of the best ways to do this is to make your bad habits much harder to achieve.

Avoid having chocolate or wine in your house or your partner to lock it away our of sight. Place your cookies on top of your cupboard or in the garage. If it takes more effort to get them you are less likely to succumb to temptation. Think about it – when you are at work if there is a bowl of sweets or biscuits on the desk you’ll be more likely to snack on them. This can work the other way too – try having a bowl of fruit on the table or a selection of prepared vegetables to snack on.

Watch Your Company

It has often been said we are the sum of the closest people around us. So if you are trying to implement new healthy eating patterns but your close friends want to grab a burger each weekend or spend the night at the pub this is going to be more difficult.

If your partner is opening a bottle of wine or snacking on chocolate in the evenings this may affect your success.

Talk to your loved ones and explain what your new goals and plans are. If they love you they will support you. Equally build new friends and groups – try a new exercise class or join a running club. Use social media as well to find people with similar interests.  

Don’t Focus on Failures

When you think you’ve cracked a new healthy habit the chances are something will crop up that throws you off. Say for example you have been consistently going to the gym and it feels like a new habit you are enjoying. But then you get ill or you have to go away for work. Before you know it you’ve miss several days and now the thought of going back seems such an effort. Don’t feel defeated. Even if you do miss the odd day that doesn’t mean you can’t back into your routine again. The longer you’ve been doing your new habit the easier it is to get on track but even if you are just starting out don’t focus on the days you missed. Creating a new habit takes time and repetition so just keep focused and moving forward.

Avoid Negatively

Find yourself complaining whether its about your own actions or someone elses be aware of your thoughts and negative cycle it can promote. You are what you think about. When you complain or criticize, you are putting energy into negativity rather than being positive or thankful.

Each day start by thinking of three things you are thankful for. Say them out loud or write them down.

Research suggests positivity can significantly reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Read our blog on journaling.