We have all been there - inspired and determined to start a new, healthier lifestyle. However, staying consistent with those new habits is often easier said than done. The upside is that there are plenty of techniques to help make this possible. This article will explore the science behind habit formation and offer practical tips to make those healthy habits stick for good.
Making Healthy Habits Stick
It is important to first understand the role our brains play in habit formation. In a 2005 study published in the journal Neuron, researchers Ann Graybiel and Kyle Smith discovered that the basal ganglia, which are located deep within the brain, play a significant part in forming habits. The basal ganglia is responsible for processing patterns and repetitions, ultimately leading to the automatic execution of behaviors over time. By understanding how brains process and store these patterns, that knowledge can be harnessed to create lasting habits.
Charles Duhigg, in his 2012 book "The Power of Habit," simplifies the process of habit formation by breaking it down into three key components: cue, routine, and reward. The cue is the signal that initiates the habit (hunger pangs signaling it's time to cook, for example). The routine is the action performed in response to the cue, such as prepping the food. Finally, the reward (the delicious food and inevitable dopamine rush) is the positive reinforcement that makes habits stick. Understanding these steps helps people realize how they can effectively design positive habits and replace negative ones.
Small Steps Lead to Big Results
One of the secrets to creating lasting habits is setting goals that are challenging but achievable. A 2010 study by Professors Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that people who set specific, realistic goals were more committed and successful in achieving them. For example, aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week rather than trying to lose all your excess weight in a single month. By breaking down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps, you will stay motivated and see real, steady progress.
Stay on Track
Tracking your progress can also help you consistently achieve goals. In a 2011 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, Deborah Tate, and others showed that people who consistently tracked their diet and exercise lost more weight as compared to those who didn't.
Whether it is writing in a journal, using a health-tracking app, or sharing your journey with a supportive friend, tracking your progress will help you spot patterns, note and celebrate successes, and learn from setbacks.
The Importance of Social Support
Humans are a social species and therefore need support. Especially when working toward a challenging goal like weight loss. Dr. Tricia M. Leahey and her team found, in a 2012 study published in the journal Obesity, that people who joined weight loss programs with friends were more successful in shedding pounds and maintaining their new habits.
Reach out to friends, family members, or online communities who share your health goals (like the Actlive Life Motivators Facebook Group for subscribers). Together, you can create an encouraging environment that makes it easier to stay consistent.
Roll with the Punches
Life is certainly unpredictable, and one guarantee is that people will have to face adversity. That's why it's essential to cultivate a flexible mindset. Researchers Kaitlin M. Bountress and Sudie E. Back found in their 2018 study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders that people who practiced cognitive flexibility experienced lower levels of stress and anxiety. When life is unfair, be sure to adjust your habits and adapt. For example, if your schedule becomes too hectic for meal planning, try meal prepping on weekends or explore healthy meal delivery options.
The secret to creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is understanding the science behind habit formation and applying practical strategies for consistency. If you set realistic goals, track your progress, seek social support, and embrace flexibility, you really can make great changes that benefit your well-being. Implementing a successful, healthy lifestyle is unique to each individual, and finding the proper combination of techniques that work for you is important for your lasting success. Be patient with yourself, stay consistent, and enjoy the many rewards that come with leading a healthier life.
Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise routine. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.