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Eight Ways to Develop Healthy Habits

July 2019

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

  1. Know Why You're Doing It. When you're ready to eat better or get fit, set yourself up for success by understanding why you're trying to make behavior change happen. Do you want to have more energy at work? Do you dream of finishing a 5K walk or run? Do you simply want to breathe better? Identifying a meaningful and personal reason to make changes will help to motivate you.
  2. Know Both the Benefits and the Costs of Pursuing Your Goals. Most people find it easy to identify the benefits of trying to reach a healthy goal. You may want to feel better and look better, for example. Research on decision-making shows some advantages to thinking about the costs of such efforts. For example, it can cost both time and money to increase your fitness. By reviewing the costs, you'll be better prepared when potential barriers pop up as you go after your goals. Being realistic and prepared will help you to stay on track and "keep your eyes on the prize."
  3. Plan it Out. Map out your goals and then break them down into mini-goals that you can achieve. What steps will you take to reach them? The more concrete the steps are, the more manageable your goals will be. Write down your goal and the "why" question behind it on bright sticky notes, and post them in visible places around your house. Keep a journal or a spreadsheet to help you track your progress.
  4. Think Patience, Not Perfection. Most of us want to shed pounds now or feel better today. We don't have to do it all right away, and we don't have to do it perfectly. That "perfection" mindset can undermine the best intentions. The habits and behaviors that got you where you are today developed over time. That means it'll take time to build healthier, new habits. When you get frustrated, remind yourself that it doesn't have to happen all at once. Even small changes can make a difference.
  5. Build on Other Successes. What are you good at right now? Use those skills to mix healthy changes into your lifestyle. Are you organized? Use your best management practices to plan out healthy meals a week in advance. Or maybe you like routines? Try committing to a before-dinner walk with your neighbor at the same time, twice a week.
  6. Don't Dwell on Failure. We all have bad days with our jobs, spouses, or kids. We get through them by looking at the big picture and reminding ourselves that all days aren't bad. We need to keep thinking about all of the good days that surround them. Do the same when you're trying to adopt healthy new habits. For example, if you've been doing great with walking and then you skip a few days, don't dwell on it. Focus on all those days of success. Let your positive behaviors motivate you to get back on track.
  7. Recognize Success. Behavior change isn't easy, so when you succeed, give yourself credit. The next time you go for that walk or skip that dessert, give yourself a pat on the back. Celebrate both small and large successes.
  8. Evaluate Your Efforts Weekly. If you are not willing to take honest and frequent looks at your setbacks, your efforts to change are doomed from the start. Don't give up because you went to the breakfast buffet with your friends and overdid it. Make a healthier choice for lunch. The road to healthy habits is not a straight line. You will encounter bumps along the way, but keeping the big picture in mind and your goals in sight, will help you achieve a healthier lifestyle. Remember, all small steps matter.