How to Build Healthy Habits (Top 7 Tips)

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Health is about Habits, not Willpower. Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take some degree of willpower to construct healthy habits, but, in the long-term, your health is determined by those routines you engage in without even thinking. So, the big question, how do you build healthy habits to become your best and healthiest self? Here are my top 7 tips, with examples!

 

 

  • Reconstruct your environment. If you choose one tip to remember, this one is it. When temptation is constantly dogging you, you’re bound to slip up on your resolution. This isn’t because you’re weak, it’s because you are human. Therefore, take steps to avoid temptation. 

 

 

Example. Do you have a habit of stopping by the fridge or pantry for a snack when you return home? I know I did. Before my shoes were off, I had food in my mouth. Like clockwork. In fact, research by Cornell’s Brian Wansink shows that people who enter into a side door of their house that opens into a kitchen are more likely to be obese than those who enter in through the front door, simply because of environmental temptation. Therefore, one could simply commit to walking into a non-kitchen-crossing entrance and avoiding temptation all together.

 

 

  • Awareness tricks. Habits, by definition, are mindless. The more you can do to increase your awareness of your behavior, the more likely you are to make change.

 

 

Example. Researchers the University of Southern California took two groups of people — those who routinely ate popcorn at the movies and those who did not — and exposed them to nasty, stale popcorn. Nevertheless, the habitual popcorn eater (not the other group) ate most of the popcorn, despite reporting that they weren’t hungry and didn’t like the taste. However, when the same experiment was performed, but the habitual popcorn eaters were forced to eat with their non-dominant hands, their popcorn consumption decreased! This is because eating with your nondominant hand forces you to be aware of the action of eating. 

 

 

  • Commitment devices. This one is mean, but effective, if correctly implemented. You can think of it as a form of punishment, i.e. you make a rule to punish yourself someway/somehow if you don’t stick to your new habit.

 

 

Example. Say you’re trying to get in bed by 10:00 pm. Make a rule that, if you don’t achieve that goal, the next day you have to give away $10, or, and I like this suggestion better, you need to read one article or watch one full Ted Talk on why sleep is important. Use the latter commitment device, and you’ll be in bed on time routinely within a month. 

 

 

  • Habit piggybacking. This one is pretty simple: simply make an association between a new habit and an established habit.

 

 

Example. I wanted to start doing a 10-minute yoga routine every morning. I brush my teeth every morning. Therefore, I simply told myself that every morning I would do my yoga just before brushing my teeth. Easy peasy down-dog breezy (I sleep in boxers). 

 

 

  • Short-term rewards. What can I say? It’s well established that habits are built by making positive associations between actions and short-term, not long-term, outcomes. Therefore, find a way to make your new habit rewarding. 

 

 

Example. You want to eat more vegetables, but you’re struggling. Obviously, it would defeat the health purpose to reward yourself for eating vegetables with a stack of Oreo cookies. What about a social reward? You could try putting effort into composing a healthy colorful meal every day and posting an image to Instagram, or other form of social media, to show off. Or, you could send the picture to a friend or family member. Don’t be afraid to show off and be prideful about your health. Plus, if you’re embarrassed to do this, you could always prime your audience by saying, “forgive me for the food pictures, but I’m using the science of positive associations to form this new healthy habit. By simply tolerating my incessant food pictures, you are helping me to improve my health!” I guarantee people will understand and, maybe, will even steal the hack form themselves. You’re a trendsetter! 

 

 

  • Eliminate “frictions.” Frictions are those little, but meaningful, barriers to action in your life: the cold walk to the car in the winter that makes you want to skip work or the dishes you’ll have to clean if you cook a healthy meal, rather than ordering takeout. Find ways to get rid of frictions.

 

 

Example. Perhaps the best example of eliminating frictions that I can currently think of is meal-prepping. Nobody likes to chop vegetables, mix spices, marinate protein, and clean up the dishes afterwards. So, do it ahead of time (maybe on the weekend while listening to a podcast or music). Have everything prepped in Tupperware or Ziplock bags so that, when it’s time to eat, you can simply heat up your food in the microwave (a very healthy way of cooking, by the way) or toss your prepped ingredients into the pan. Presto, Presto, Healthy Pesto (over Lemon Chicken and Zoodles)!

 

 

  • Social support & accountability. If reconstructing your environment was my number one tip, this has to be my closer. It’s simple, obvious, but also among the most important tools in your habit-forming toolbox. If you can find a partner to take on the new healthy habit with you, and you two remain accountable to each other, you are much more likely to succeed. In fact, your partner doesn’t even need to adopt the habit themselves. Just find someone willing to hold you accountable.

 

 

Example. I coach nutrition for metabolic health. Of those people I coach for weight loss, my success rate is 100%. Want more numbers? My average client loses (and keeps off) 18 pounds in their first two months. My secret (and theirs) … accountability. I begin by telling them they have to message me a picture of every morsel of food they put into their mouths. Once I trust them and, more importantly, they trust themselves, we transition to the point where they must report to me anytime they cheat on their new healthy routine. I promise, I’m never judgmental. In fact, when slip ups do happen, I try to be extremely positive to encourage said person to get back on track. You’d be surprised how powerful (positive and encouraging) social support and accountability are as tools for habit change.

 

My last words are a call to action for you. Examples are key. Therefore, please feel encouraged to leave a comment below remarking on a personal example of one of the above tricks. Thanks, in advance, for sharing.



Nicholas Norwitz

*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of MDLingo.com, its affiliates, or its employees.