Establish new habits that stick in just 3 weeks
This is not another article about New Year’s Resolutions!
If you made a resolution, that’s great! But what I really want to talk about is bigger than that. I’d like to widen the focus and talk about how to adopt healthy habits and then narrow the focus down to a few effective ways to help you commit to them – creating lasting changes that you truly want, not just a resolution that sounds good at the moment.
So, please keep reading to learn how to turn your resolution into permanent healthy habits well-beyond New Year’s.
Two Things Necessary to Commit to Positive Changes
Planning and time are the biggest reasons why people don’t maintain their resolutions. People tell me they want to start eating better and they want to exercise more. But often they don’t have answers to the simple questions crucial to these resolutions.
Like, where do I start? What healthy recipes will replace my usual dinner staples? What exercises do I plan to do? When will I exercise and how often should I exercise?
People often don’t realize that commitment to a lifestyle change requires one or more of the following:
- You need to carve out more time in your day to commit to healthy choices.
- You need to prioritize your changes above other things on your schedule.
- You need to start small. Changing too many things at once make it harder to stick to those changes.
- You need to do these repetitively until they “stick”.
Simply put: You need to prioritize your new healthy choices for them to become healthy habits. Other things have to go and healthy habits have to take their place. That’s when you really start seeing and feeling the difference. Your future self will thank you for the hard work it takes to make new commitments, especially for the first few weeks.
They say it takes about 15 – 21 days for a new behavior to become a habit—that’s not so bad. Just think about how much better you could feel in two or three short weeks.
How Your Brain Creates a Habit
Healthy habits keep you healthy. They prolong your life and boost your happiness, your strength, and your energy. But they don’t form overnight. They have to be embedded in your brain. Here’s how that happens.
Habits begin when we behave in a certain way to reach a specific goal. For example, you brush your teeth before bed for healthy teeth and gums. This has likely been engrained in your brain since you were a kid because the outcome is proven—fewer cavities, better breath, and your teeth don’t fall out.
The daily repetition is critical and we normally follow a cue to a repetitive habit. For example, you brush your teeth after you put your pajamas on (cue that it’s near bed time).
When you’re building this cue-response relationship, you’re using parts of your brain (pre-frontal cortex) that help you make conscious decisions. But as you repeat the behavior, the information that connects the goal, cue, and response moves to a different part of your brain – a sort of behavioral autopilot that no longer remembers the original goal or outcome. It just remembers the cue and the response.
To put it another way, two parts of your mind are involved. Our “intentional” mind helps us act in ways that meet a desired outcome that we’re aware of. However, when the “habitual” mind (the “autopilot”) is engaged, we’re much less aware of what we’re doing or even why.
How You Can Create Your New Healthy Habits
“The Three R’s” is the simplest and most effective formula for creating lifelong habits. Those R’s are:
- Reminder, aka cue or trigger
- Routine, aka response
- Reward, aka reinforcement
Let’s flesh this out in real time.
Instead, try this: “I’m going to improve my health by eating more __________.” See the difference?
So say you want to eat more fruits and vegetables. Then empty the fridge of your habitual, tempting, less healthy foods and fill it with fruits and vegetables. That way, you remove the cues that would make your habitual response kick in (“I see bacon, I eat bacon.”). And at the same time, you’re creating a new cue and response model (“I see fruit, I eat fruit.”). That helps you meet your goal.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Changing your autopilot won’t happen overnight. But it can take as little as 15 days to form a new habit. I know, 15 days might feel like a long time when you’re aching to change a habit. But it’ll go by faster than you think.
Congratulate yourself. Every time you do the right thing, give yourself a standing ovation. Because you’ll deserve it! And it will encourage you to do the same right thing next time. Which promotes turning intentional behavior into habitual behavior.
So stick with it, build that new habit, and one day, you’ll look with satisfaction at your healthier, happier, new self. And you’ll feel great, not because you look better but because you body literally feels better than it did just two weeks ago. I promise.
9 Life-Extending Habits to Create
So without further ado, here are nine healthy habits that are critical to achieving and maintaining your peak health. With each of them, I included a set of Rs to help lock them into both sides of your brain.
Remember, don’t try to change too many things at once. Choose a healthy new habit or two that resonate strongest for you. And in a few weeks, when it becomes a habit, come back to this list and choose which habit will come next.
- Sleep: Reminder – Set an evening alarm to cue you when it’s time to shut off screens (TV, tablets and phones). Routine – Turn off the alarm and start getting ready for bed. If you’re not quite sleep yet, try listening to radio or reading a paper book to wind down. Reward – Feeling refreshed in the morning, not feeling groggy in the afternoon.
- Diet: Reminder – Eat only when you feel hungry. Routine – Plan your healthy meals and set aside the time to cook them. Reward – Not only will your body thank you with better energy and endurance, but you’ll have delicious and healthy leftovers for lunch the next day!
- Exercise: Reminder – An alarm or a call from your workout friend. Routine – Set aside time to exercise at least three times a week (this can be as simple as a 15-20 minute walk around the block). Reward – Better sleep at night, more energy during the day, looking and feeling healthier.
- Managing Stress: Reminder – Instead of dwelling on the stress, use that moment to think of something that makes you happy. Routine – Reflect on people and things you are grateful for several times a day. Reward – Recognize the effects of managing your stress and congratulate yourself for changing a negative into a positive.
- Work Your Brain: Reminder – Make a rule that you stimulate your brain (reading, working on a puzzle, playing a brain-stimulating game) at a specific time each day. Routine – Continue this daily. An ideal time might be after turning your phone and computer screens off in the hour or so leading up to bedtime. Reward – Better memory, feeling more focused and sharp-minded.
- Rally Your Healthcare Team: Reminder – Rally some friend who are also working on healthy new habits and send a daily text to support their changes as well. Routine – Give and take suggestions. Feed into and feed off of the encouragement. Reward – More motivation to continue living a healthy lifestyle.
- Strengthen Your Social Connections: Reminder – Join a community organization/activity, make it a point to find something social to do, maybe set up a weekly pot luck dinner with friends or family. Routine – Participate daily/weekly. Reward – Sharing new experiences with people, whether they are new or long-time friends helps improve mood and sharpen your mind.
- Detox: Reminder – Consider the end of each month to detox your body. Routine – Stick to the schedule, but perhaps use different detox methods to keep it interesting. Reward – Feeling lighter, more energized and refreshed from head to toe.
- Take the Right Supplements: Reminder – Put your supplements next to something you use regularly, such as your coffeemaker. Routine – Take supplements daily and set reminders to reorder before you run out (or see if your supplement manufacturer has an automatic reorder service). Reward – Rest easy knowing that you’re practicing preventative health.
A Note About Detox and Taking Supplements
A lot of people have a scary or extreme image of detoxification. The truth is you don’t have to do anything drastic to effectively detox your body. What detox gurus often fail to tell you is that your liver and kidneys do the lion’s share of your body’s detoxing without much help.
Intermittent fasting and juice cleanses are simple and safe ways to help your liver and kidneys do their jobs because you are lightening their workload.
As far as supplements go, there are thousands out there. Picking the right ones is hard if you are new to incorporating supplements into your life. I’ll make it simple: If I could only take 7 of the thousands of the supplements on the market, here are the very ones that I’d take: a good multivitamin, curcumin, omega-3 essential fatty acids, coenzyme Q10, a probiotic, berberine, and undenatured type II collagen.
Action, Momentum, Habits, Health
As you start working on these habits –even just a couple of them – you’ll quickly notice how much they are interconnected. Healthy habits help you to gain positive momentum needed to start others and commit to them too.
For example – exercise is a natural way to manage stress, detox, and improve your ability to sleep. Better sleep improves your mood and rests your brain. I could go on but you get the idea – all of these habits are interconnected to another.
Bottom line, maintain one healthy habit and others will follow.
Last Updated: January 2, 2020
Originally Published: August 12, 2015