How to Build a Healthy Habit

Create a new healthy habit (and make it stick!) with these tips.

What does "healthy" mean to you? That's not something you have to answer perfectly right now (or ever, as there's really no correct response!). Just think about it.

Now, here's an easier question: what's a habit you could develop that would help you feel healthy? Be specific! There are a million ways to go here, so make sure that your answer rings true to you.

Although specific dates certainly get all the credit, you don't have to wait for a New Year's resolution or even a Monday to begin your journey to well-being. Any time you feel inspired is a good time to start building a healthy habit, regardless of how big or small it may seem. Simple tweaks, willpower, and a bit of self-understanding can do wonders when attempting a lifestyle revamp.

According to The Power of Habit writer Charles Duhigg, once a habit is formed your brain goes into a "sleep-mode" of sorts, allowing you to perform your habit automatically while conserving brainpower for other important work. As we know, the biggest shifts happen slowly, so don't put too much pressure on yourself to reset your entire life. Instead, think of your new habit as a baby step toward a much bigger goal. If you're ready to make a change and kickstart a healthy, productive habit, here are a few simple ways to get started.

  1. Be specific. Though the sentiment is there, "being healthy" does not necessarily count as a habit. Instead, be specific when stating your goal. Is drinking more water something that defines a healthy lifestyle for you personally? Determine the amount of H20 you'd like to consume daily and dive in.
  2. But also think big. While your attempted new habit may be hyper-focused, you can utilize big-picture and long-term inspiration to keep you motivated. Instead of setting immediate, short-term goals, think of your new habit as part of the greater good and imagine how it will benefit you for years to come.
  3. Stick with a schedule. The saying goes, “It takes 21 days to build a habit, 30 days to build a lifestyle.” While some experts eschew the 21-day theory in favor of longer periods, others have shown that 21 days is a great timeframe to start making small changes to your routine. Pick a day to begin and remember to mark the final day on your calendar as well. If you miss a day, don't worry — starting over isn't necessary. Just get back to it tomorrow.
  4. Write it down. When you write things down, you tend to remember them better. Keep reminders of your goal where you'll see them: at your desk or in your planner, inside the medicine cabinet, in your car. If you want to remember to take your supplements at lunch, stick a note on the fridge or on your Tupperware! Just remember to be specific. An “eat healthy” note on the fridge may not do much good, but a “one serving for lunch” sticky on the salad you prepped might.
  5. Put it out into the universe. Don't keep your new habit a secret! If you really want it to stick, you need to commit to it and make it a priority. Hold yourself accountable by showing pride in your new practice and making sure everyone knows what you're doing. If your loved ones are aware that you're trying to take your supplements every day, they may be able to remind you to grab the vitamin C when you forget. More importantly, they can cheer you on when they see you sticking to your goal. Remember: everyone wants you to succeed. You've got this!
  6. Set reminders. Sticking with the supplements example (hey, it’s what we do!), set alerts in your phone to regularly remind you to take your vitamins. If the goal is to exercise more, pencil your sweat sessions into your daily calendar. Attempting to practice meditation? Do it at the same time every day so you don’t forget. The more you make your new habit a part of your daily routine, the more likely it is to stick around for good.
  7. Do some prep work. It's so much easier to establish a habit if you do some prep work for Future You. Lay out your exercise clothes the night before, prep veggies for the week's meals on a Sunday, set your alarm to go off five minutes earlier than normal.
  8. Track your progress. There's nothing more motivating than seeing results. Keep the good momentum going by noting significant milestones every few days, even if they seem small. Maybe you hit your water goal or made it to 10,000 steps — celebrate it! You may find yourself ready to up the ante in the next week. And if you're not seeing progress: don't fret. The time will come, and you'll be happy you have evidence of change when it does.
  9. Reward yourself. James Clear, who writes about habit-building, believes habits come in four stages: cue, craving, response, and reward. Your brain is wired to want an end result, often in the form of a reward. According to Clear, “Rewards close the feedback loop and complete the habit cycle.” Once you've made it to 21 days, treat yourself to anything from a spa day to a new pair of shoes to that kitchen gadget you've been eyeing. You deserve it after all that hard work!