Every January, millions of people commit to changing their lives for the better. The beginning of a new year is inspiration to start fresh and become our best selves throughout the next year. But each year, 80% of those “new year, new me” goals are out the window within a month, with some data indicating most people start to drop off by January 12.
Why do so many people fail so epically to keep up their healthy new habits? There is actually some science around building healthy habits that are sustainable. Turns out most of us just don’t set ourselves up for success from the get-go.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR BUILDING HEALTHY HABITS THAT LAST
UNDERSTAND HOW HABITS WORK.
There are three parts to a habit: the cue, the action, and the reward. The cue triggers you to perform the action, you perform the action, and then there is a reward in your brain for performing the action.
For example, if you’re trying to create a new habit, like meditating regularly, your physical cue could be to put out a mat to sit on. The action is the meditation itself. Then, after meditating, it’s critical you reward your brain for the behavior. Our brains want to repeat behaviors that release the feel-good chemical dopamine. Your post-meditation reward could be a sweet treat or listening to a favorite song.
If you’re trying to change a bad habit, you need to revise the action and create a new reward. For example, you’re trying to stop snacking while watching TV. As long as you own a TV it will serve as a cue, so you need to replace the action of eating chips (whose salty deliciousness releases dopamine in your brain) and do something else rewarding. Try planning a fun outing, buying yourself flowers, or something else that brings you joy to create a new healthier response to the cue.
Many people forget that they need to reward themselves every time they perform the new behavior. You might go gangbuster at the gym for 60 minutes every day for the first week of January, but that’s not enough time to see any rewarding results. Because the brain is not getting rewarded for the behavior, there is no desire to keep doing it.
ALLOW 8 WEEKS FOR THE HABIT TO DEVELOP.
You have to be conscious about a new behavior pretty much every time you do it for at least 2 months. Research shows that it takes most people a little over 8 weeks for a new behavior to become automatic.
Many people expect it will “get easier” much sooner than that, and that causes a lot of people to give up way before the habit has a fighting chance of survival.
DON’T RELY ON MOTIVATION.
Most humans don’t have an endless pool of motivation to keep waking up early and forcing ourselves through hard workouts at the gym when there are so many more enjoyable things to do (staying in a cozy bed, to name a favorite). This is where tricking the brain becomes important, as well as reducing obstacles and creating a supportive environment.
People often think they can mentally muscle through it and will find the willpower to ignore temptation. For example, if you’re trying to eat less sugar, you decide you’ll just not eat the ice cream in the freezer. Mentally, it’s hard work to know the ice cream is there and to try not to eat it. Just get rid of the ice cream. Make it as easy as possible for yourself to adopt the healthy behavior.
IT’S OK TO MESS UP.
Research shows that when (not if, because #reality) you miss a day, it does not cause you to completely fall off the bandwagon.
People expect that once they slip up, the work has been for nothing or they’re not capable of accomplishing the goal and give up on the overall effort. Please don’t do this.
Building healthy habits requires daily attention. If you slip up one time, the only thing that affects is that single instance. You can make a different choice next time, and should reward yourself for all the other times that you did make a healthy choice.
BUILDING SUSTAINABLE EATING HABITS
If you’re like most people and your 2020 goals include eating healthier, Territory can be a great support system for building a sustainable habit. The Territory menu is filled with undeniably healthy meals for variety of different eating styles, which takes all of the mental effort out of deciding what to eat or preparing it.
The meals are also made by a network of professional chefs, which means they are really delicious, and to your brain, that is a pretty great reward to reinforce a healthy new behavior.