How to Create a New Habit That Will Last
January 11, 2023
It’s the start of a new year and the big question on many people’s mind is, “How can you set yourself up for success with new health goals?”
“While the new year is a fresh start, in general, resolutions tend to make people try to do too much too fast, establishing goals without the planning and commitment necessary to make the change,” says University Hospitals sports medicine specialist Laura Goldberg, MD. “For success, you need to know what you want to do, why you want to do it and then make a plan to accomplish it.”
Try the 21/90 Rule
How long does it take to establish a habit? That depends on what the habit is and on the individual. On average, it takes 66 days to establish a new habit, but the good news is you can approach it in manageable chunks.
The 21/90 rule is a great way to approach a new habit. Here’s how to do it:
- Commit to a new habit for 21 days straight. This is the time that you’re likely to feel the most resistance. You’re creating change and adjusting to a new normal.
- Continue the habit for 90 days. Once you’ve established the habit, continue for another 90 days. You should find that the habit is then a more effortless part of your routine and you can adjust the frequency according to your lifestyle.
How to Set Yourself Up for Success
Start small. Begin with one or two small goals. Having too many sets you up for failure. Tackle one, achieve success, then move on to another. Each success drives confidence, excitement and commitment.
Consider why. Why do you want to make the change? Have an understanding of what you want to get out of it. What benefit will it have and how will that affect your life? Having a reason helps you commit to the new habit.
Make a plan. Set goals following the SMART acronym: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. For example: “Walk more” isn’t SMART. “Walk to raise my heart rate 30 minutes, 5 days a week (specific and measurable) for the next 3 months (timely)” is SMART. If you don’t have a home treadmill and have to walk outside in bad weather, that may not be achievable or realistic. So you’d need a backup plan to walk in the mall or recreation center.
Find your lifestyle fit. How can you accomplish it? For success, a habit has to fit your lifestyle. Know if the change will fit and plan how to fit it into your lifestyle. If you’re not a morning person, choose a different time of day to exercise.
Use cues. Create consistent behavior with a cue. If you want to drink more water, get a new water bottle or cup. Keep it somewhere visible so you remember to drink water when you see it.
Small Decisions, Big Consequences
Repetitive reinforcement. Every day we make small decisions that add up to significant consequences. Creating a habit is making those small decisions natural without having to think. If you want to become a vegetarian, at first, every time you go out, you have to make a decision about what you’re going to eat. Each time you make that decision, it gets easier. Over time, you don’t have to think.
Recognize old habits. Say you want to lose 10 pounds. Each time you walk past the store aisle with your favorite snack, you make a small decision. When you choose to get the snack, it contributes to why you can’t lose 10 pounds. When you make a different choice, you start to build momentum. Small decisions add up over time to make it easier for a habit to stick.
Plan ahead to prevent failure. If you see something is going to prevent a good choice and disrupt a goal, make a small decision ahead of time to prevent the consequence. If you want to walk 5 days a week but your schedule is crazy, decide to get up earlier in the morning to gain time.
Dealing With Resistance & Change Issues
Do you think a habit is something that has to be done consistently without fail? It doesn’t. Life happens. Vacations, special celebrations and life disruptions can interrupt a healthy habit. A reboot takes discipline, but you can decide to jumpstart and reestablish your plan.
It may be hard to stick to a new habit that comes from someone else – such as a doctor, friend or spouse. To make the change, you’ll need to feel the personal commitment and conviction that it’s right for you. If you choose to make a change, do one that’s important for you and your goals.
At University Hospitals, our fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists, primary care doctors, nutritionists, sleep experts and other health care professionals ensure the very best in health and medical care for active people. Learn more about sports medicine services at University Hospitals.