Woman establishes good habits as part of her daily routine with a positive mindset

How To Build Healthy Habits That Last


Our daily lives are filled with habits, good ones and bad ones. Think about what time you usually wake up, how you get ready for your day, what you eat, how you work, or how you spend your free time. From here, you can identify patterns.

When we look at these patterns, we might see actions we like and actions we don’t like. It would be nice to turn some of the negative behaviors we see into good ones, right? It can be hard to quit bad habits or establish good ones because we feel so set in our ways. But it’s not as hard as you think.

This year, as you try to build a more positive routine for yourself, consider that it took just as much time to set your current habits as it will to set the ones you want. Your goal shouldn’t be to set as many good habits as possible in the shortest amount of time; it should be to set good habits that will last. Here’s how to create good habits that you can keep for the long term. And be sure to download our habit tracker and other templates to help you reach your resolution at the bottom of this blog.

How To Set the Right Goals

A mindset of self-compassion is crucial when setting good habits. Being hard on yourself, setting unreasonable expectations, or pursuing your goals rashly will likely result in failure. This makes self-compassion necessary for a few different reasons.

Be honest with yourself and start with goals and actions that you know are attainable. If you want to get in better shape, don’t set the goal of completely transforming yourself right away, and don’t plan on doing all the same workouts or spending as much time in the gym as people who have been working out for years. You will put too much stress on yourself, which may result in your plan falling through.

Start small. Tell yourself that you want to be a little healthier next month than you are now, and begin with a light workout that you know you can keep doing. If you get to a point where you can step things up, do it safely.

How Habits Work

Habits can generally be broken down into three parts:

  • The Cue: the moment in which you make a decision. This is when you are prompted to take action.
  • The Action: the actual behavior that can either be a good habit or a bad habit. It’s how you respond to a cue and is often done based on the reward you receive.
  • The Reward: the outcome of your action. Bad habits are often set because of immediate rewards.

How Habits Start

It all starts with the cue. Learn to identify these situations when they happen. It could be when your alarm goes off, when you’re choosing your next meal, when you start working, or when you go home. Instead of going through your routine each day, stay on the lookout for cues and stop each time one occurs. Take a moment to contemplate your potential actions, and which one will likely benefit you in the long run, as well as the one that will give you an immediate reward.

How To Choose Good Habits

Make your action when you are sure that it’s in line with the good habits you are trying to set. This could be making yourself get out of bed on your first alarm without hitting snooze, choosing to eat something healthy and nutritious, working hard instead of procrastinating or doing the bare minimum, or doing something active rather than something passive in your free time.

An easy way to commit to positive or healthy actions is to plan them beforehand and make them as specific as possible. Instead of saying that you need to exercise more after work, for example, say that you are going to go for a 30-minute walk after work every day. Having a specific plan in your mind by the time you are faced with a cue will help you avoid straying from your goals.

Another way to simplify setting your healthy habits through good actions is to keep it small. The goals you should be setting for yourself should be small and attainable, and steps that you take to get there should be small as well. Your goal shouldn’t be to completely turn your routine and your life around as soon as you can because the actions you would need to take to accomplish that would not be sustainable.

If you’re starting to exercise, start with 30 minutes of light exercise. Commit to actions that you know you can continue making years from now. Once you have taken a healthy action, reward yourself.

Reward Yourself To Set Good Habits

The third and most crucial part of a habit is the reward. Why do you smoke, drink, or eat unhealthy foods? You get a reward right after. All bad habits are set in pursuit of immediate gratification. That’s why it’s understandable that we don’t always feel as motivated to make healthy choices.

Getting up earlier makes us feel like we’ve missed out on sleep. Eating healthy food doesn’t quite satisfy our cravings. Exercising is tiring and sometimes painful. You wouldn’t be blamed for not finding any of these things appealing, which is why you may need to reward yourself for doing them.

This could be 15 minutes of playing video games for every hour of reading that you do or a piece of dark chocolate after a workout. Whether it’s in the form of a break or a small treat, be sure to reward yourself.

While both bad and good habits take time to set, good habits also take patience, resilience, and self-kindness. Visit St. Joseph Health’s Resolution Resources to find out how you can take steps toward wellness while taking it easy on yourself in 2021.

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