4th December, 20193 min read

How to form a new habit and make it stick

How to form a new habit and make it stick
Medically reviewed

You don’t need superhuman levels of willpower to live a healthier lifestyle. It all comes down to creating new healthy habits that feel like second nature.

But if you’ve already failed multiple attempts to get healthy for good, can you really form healthy habits for life?

Science says you can - if you take the following steps.

Be specific

A leading study on how to form a habit was carried out by a team from the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre. The results, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, suggest that if you want to form a habit, you need to be specific about:

  • the habit you want to form
  • what you will do to achieve it
  • the situation you will do it in

Take a moment now to write down:

  • the first healthy habit you would like to form
  • what you will do or stop doing to achieve it
  • when you will do (or not do) this thing

Stick to it for 66 days

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The same Cancer Research UK study suggests that it takes 66 days to form a habit, so it’s important to persevere even when it feels too tough.

A habit is a behaviour that becomes automatic because you’ve performed it so many times in the past. This means that every time you successfully follow through on a healthy change, you move a step closer to making it a habit. Use this thought as daily motivation to not give up.

Start small

Making too big a change or changing too many things at once can feel overwhelming. The more overwhelming an activity is, the less likely you are to stick with it.

Increase your chances of success by starting as small as you can manage. For example, if you want to eat less red meat, don’t focus on cutting out red meat entirely if you eat it every day. Instead, aim to eat smaller portions of red meat and/or eat it less often.

Avoid triggers

Creating healthy habits for life can be difficult, and doing so becomes harder if you surround yourself with temptation.

To make a healthy change a habit, try to avoid people, places and things that trigger your habit. For example, if you want to stop smoking but find you smoke when you’re in a bar, try to avoid bars during the first 66 days of quitting.

You’re never too young or old to create a healthy habit for life

If you’ve had a less than healthy habit for the majority of your life, you may think you’re too old to make a change. However, this may not be true. According to the researchers behind the Cancer Research UK study, there’s no evidence to indicate that young or older people acquire habits differently.

In fact, the charity Age UK suggests that we should adopt healthy habits as we grow older. Doing so is key to living healthily and happily for longer. The recommended healthy habits include staying active and looking after your teeth. To find out more, read Age UK’s full list of tips for healthy ageing.

Are you unsure of how to get started with choosing a healthy habit to adopt? Why not try a Your.MD self-assessment to spot the areas of your health that could benefit from your attention. You can find them in our app.

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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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