Habits are actions we take almost without thinking. They’re automatically programmed into a sequence of events, times of the day or situations we find ourselves in.
Often, we create habits that keep us healthy or safe, such as washing our hands after going to the bathroom, checking both ways before we cross the street, and brushing our teeth before bed.
Some habits we’ve learned as babies, so they seem like second nature to us, but others we need to train ourselves into as we get older. And it’s these habits that can be harder to make stick.
Our new healthy habit may be to go to the gym, get up and walk every hour, be more aware of our moods, or choose more balanced foods.
The goal is to get these habits to the point where they’re done automatically, without having to think too hard about them.
So, how long does it take to form a habit?
According to research, it may take anything from two to 37 weeks (that’s around 9 months) for an action to become a habit. But on average, it’s about 66 days or two months.
Don’t worry. You can do things to make the most of those two months as you build sustainable healthy habits.
Here are our top ten tips to form healthy habits – that stick.
1. Create your new habit around an established one
Linking a new habit to an existing one is a great way to anchor your new action. If you’re used to taking the dog for a walk, then link it to a new 15-minute exercise session when you get home. If you’re used to getting up from your desk at 10 o’clock to get a coffee, link in a new walk around the office to get there.
2. Do it daily
Getting into a routine may be easier if you do the new action more frequently. Creating a habit from a small action you take every day may be easier to get used to than a larger action taken only a couple of times a week.
3.Set a reminder
Mobile phones are great. You can set alarms for everything. To help your new habit stick, set an alert to remind you – and don’t ignore it!
4. Get an accountability partner
Many people find it easier to get into a healthy habit when they have someone to give them accountability or support. Find your cheerleader – someone who can do the activity with you or remind you what you’re doing AND why you’re doing it. It may be a family member, friend, work colleague, an online group or your TBI health professional.
5. Make it straightforward
Don’t make your new healthy habit difficult. Keep it as straightforward as possible. If it’s too complicated, you’ll fall at the first hurdle. Think of what it would take to actually perform the action you’re trying to get into the habit of doing. Now simplify the process as much as you can. Rather than loading your bike on the back of the car and driving for 40 minutes to get to the cycle track, choose to cycle out of your front door.
6. Make it visible
It can be easy to forget about your new healthy habit if there’s nothing to remind It can be easy to forget about your new healthy habit if there’s nothing to remind you what you’re doing and why. Write your new routine down. What are you going to do? And follow this with why you’re doing it. Stick it on your fridge or by your desk. Take a screenshot of it and have it as your phone background. Remind yourself what you chose to do.
Imagine yourself doing the thing you’re trying to replace with your new healthy Imagine yourself doing the thing you’re trying to replace with your new healthy habit. For example, you’re trying to stop slumping whilst sitting at work. Instead, you’re wanting to sit and relax back in your chair with your spine in an S-shaped posture to help reduce neck and back discomfort. Visualise yourself sitting at your desk with a slumped posture – now visualise yourself physically pushing that image away. Next, imagine yourself sitting at your desk with your bottom positioned back in the chair and your back relaxed into the backrest supporting your posture. Seeing yourself doing this creates a memory that supports the muscles that help you achieve this healthy habit.
8. Plan for curveballs
Life tends to get in the way of us forming healthy habits. And one thing we can do to stop it is to plan for the curveballs. When you’re planning your new habit, think of all the things that may get in the way of you achieving this. And make a plan for what to do if this happens. Write it down to remind yourself. Then, if it happens, you’re more likely to continue with your new habit than let it fall away.
9. Reward yourself
Don’t forget to reward yourself for doing an excellent job at building new habits. Plan times to give yourself a reward as well as what the reward will be. Make sure your reward supports your new habit and gives you some well-earned self-care. Think massage, manicure, new book. Your reward also may be some me-time to take part in your new routine – an exercise class, listening to a favorite podcast or audiobook when you’re walking.
10. Be patient
New habits take time for form. Remember, up to 9 months. Be patient with yourself. Accept that forming your new habit may not go according to plan all the time and will take effort on your part. But following tips one to nine will undoubtedly help.
Need more support forming your healthy habits? Chat to our Workplace Wellbeing consultants.
Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.