The art of forming healthy, lifelong habits

Between the cold dark days and the indulgences of the upcoming festive season, getting into good or healthy habits will probably be the furthest thing on anyone’s mind until New Year’s Eve at least! However, if you are thinking of undergoing a bit of self-improvement, it might be better to make a start now. Here is our guide to forming good habits that stick.

For many, the start of the New Year brings an opportunity to improve themselves and their lives. Being a time of reflection, it also offers a blank slate for the future, which is why humans have been making resolutions at the start of a new year for over 350 years. Nevertheless, in our modern world, New Year’s Eve may not be the best time to create new habits. Forbes magazine reported that less than 25% of people stay committed to their new year’s resolution after 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them. There are several reasons for this, perhaps the most obvious being that the combination of a New Year’s Eve party followed by a lazy New Year’s Day spent recovering is not the most conducive of circumstances to form good habits. 

So, if 2023 is going to be the year of a better you, you might want to think about starting to form those new habits now. In this article, we offer some tips to help you join that successful 8%.   

Make your goal your identity

When we decide to change our habits for the better, we tend to think about the goal in terms of how it will change our identity. For example, we decide we want to eat more vegetables so we can be a healthier person, or run more so we can be a marathon runner.  

However, James Clear – the Author of ‘Atomic Habits’, believes that rather than your goal being the means to reshape your identity, to make a habit stick you need to think about the process the other way around. Deciding to become the sort of person who goes for a run every evening may work, but the habit is more likely to stick if you tell yourself you are a runner. The identity will reinforce the habit and the habit in turn reinforces the identity. This concept does not only work for exercise; Jennifer Aniston, the paragon of good habits, recently said in an interview: “I’m not a big breakfast person, but I made myself become a breakfast person”. Her path to self-improvement came from a seemingly inconsequential change in identity.  

Whatever you want to achieve in the New Year; to become fitter, a healthy eater, a Spanish speaker or a writer, adopting those identities will form a structure that will not only help you develop good habits, but stick to them too. 

Make things obvious, attractive and easy for yourself.

With your new identity adopted, so follows the change of behaviours. There are three key laws of behavioural change: make it obvious, make it attractive and make it easy.

Perhaps you want to read more? Change things in your life so that the obvious thing you can do is to read. Rather than spending an evening in a room with a television, sit in a room with books and no other distractions. Consider carrying a book or an eBook with you wherever you go. Think about how much of your life you spend waiting; for doctors, for your children to finish rugby practice, for dinner to cook or for a taxi. With a book in your bag, reading will become the natural, and crucially, the obvious way to fill this time.  

Speaking an additional language is something many aspire to. For some, the romance or the challenge of the idea may be the attraction enough. But the more attractive your goal is, the more likely the habit will stick. Therefore, do some research. For those would-be polyglots (people who speak multiple languages), read up on how learning a second language can improve your memory, problem-solving skills and ability to multitask. Learning a new language is so good for mental dexterity, it is believed that, while confidently ordering osso buco alla Milanese and a bottle of Barolo in a delightful ristorante in Italy, you may also be helping to delay the onset of dementia.        

Most self-improvement regimes will be challenging while you are still forming your habits. But why make it any harder for yourself than it needs to be? If you decide to eat more healthily, take the temptation out of your weekly shop and get recipe boxes for healthy meals, delivered straight to your door. There are many companies to choose from, such as The Pure Package in London. Most offer high quality, organic ingredients portioned out with a step-by-step recipe. It really is healthy eating made easy. 

Similarly, if you think that finding the motivation to go to the gym twice a week will be tough, have easy motivation delivered to your door via a personal trainer.

The journey is more important than the destination. 

The thing you need to keep in mind is that achieving your goal, whatever it is, will amount to a single instant in your life. A very proud moment to be sure, but only one moment. 

So often, people who only concentrate on experiencing a certain moment – such as standing on the scales and seeing their target weight – will have taken extreme and unsustainable means to achieve their goal. This approach is why so many people put weight back on after being on a restrictive diet. Remember, the goal may be the motivation, but it is the good habits that will change your life.    

So, if you choose to start self-improvement today or want to wait until New Year’s Eve, think less about your ultimate goal but rather the system of good habits that will support you to continue to make good choices. Michelle Obama summed this up nicely when she wrote in her best-selling memoir Becoming: “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as a forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously towards a better self.” 

She concludes: “The journey doesn’t end”.