How to build and stick to new healthy habits

23rd December, 2021 • 9 min read

At Healthily we believe in setting goals and creating healthy habits.

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But we understand that new habits can be hard to form – this might be because of a busy family life or a hectic work schedule, both of which may leave you struggling to find the time to pursue your goals.

That's why we're here to help you every step of the way with our insider tips – in our app and on our website. We’ve pulled together the latest science-backed tips and tricks to help you focus on the changes that are really important to you – and successfully make them stick.

To kick things off, read on to discover 5 simple techniques you can use to make sure your new habits stick. And if you decide better sleep, mental wellbeing, healthy eating or getting more active are your key goals, the Healthily 28-day plans in our

app
could be just the thing for you.

5 science-backed ways to make new habits stick

1. Choose a goal that really means something to you

Choosing a goal to stick to can be tricky, but making sure it’s something you truly want to do can help. Try to pick something that you really are interested in or feel excited about. Whether your goal is big or small, make sure it’s something that you want to achieve, not what others are doing or may expect of you.

And remember, your goal doesn’t have to be something brand new, it can be something you already enjoy but want to take to the next level to push you out of your comfort zone. Perhaps you already practise meditation once a week but would like to do more to reduce your stress levels, for example? So why not join a local class or sign up for some online sessions to achieve your goal?

2. Make an ‘if… then…’ plan to get on track – and avoid getting derailed

Choosing a healthy habit is only the first step. It’s also important to plan how you’re going to succeed – but this doesn’t mean you have to create dozens of overwhelming spreadsheets and stick to a strict calendar.

You just need to get on board with what psychology researchers call ‘implementation intentions’ – a little trick proven to make you much more likely to succeed in your aims.

Implementation intentions are simple plans that work with the statement: “If X happens, I’ll do Y”. Use these action plans in 2 ways:

1. Plan how you’ll fit your goal into your daily life

For example, if your goal is “I want to exercise more”, you can break this down using an implementation intention like: “If it’s good weather, I’ll cycle to work”. Or "If it's good weather I'll run home after dropping the kids at school". Other examples are saying to yourself, "When I boil the kettle, I’ll do 10 squats.” Or “When I speak to mum on the phone, I’ll walk on the spot.” By adding structure to your goal in this simple way, you build mental links and begin to automatically associate what’s going on around you with doing your daily habit, making it much easier for you to stick to it long-term.

2. Plan how you’ll overcome barriers

So you’ve committed to exercising more – but what will you do when life gets in the way? For each implementation you set yourself, have a think at the same time about what might not go to plan and how you’ll then cope with it. For example, what if it’s bad weather and you can’t run or cycle outdoors? You could then change your intention to: “If it’s bad weather, I’ll do a yoga Youtube video when I get home.” Or what if you want to meet friends and need to drive to get to them in time? Consider: “If I’m meeting friends and I don’t want to walk or cycle, then I’ll drive but I'll park further away and walk briskly to where we’re meeting.”

3. Visualise your goals – whatever they are

When it comes to forming a new habit and reaching a goal, just thinking about it isn’t enough – you have to visualise it. Here’s how:

  • write it down: Visualising your plan by writing it down can increase your motivation, making you much more likely to actually work on your new habit. In fact, 1 study suggests you’re 42% more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down
  • make it work for you: Keep it somewhere you’ll often see it, for example, in the notes on your phone, a Post-it stuck to the inside of your front door or in magnetic letters on your fridge
  • make a vision board (especially if you want to get fitter): If you're often more motivated by images, try a scrapbook or pin motivational images to a board. Some sports research suggests that imagery can improve your performance, exercise frequency, focus and confidence, among other beneficial outcomes, for example
  • make it work for you: Again, keep these images on show, so put them on the home screen on your phone, your bathroom mirror or the inside of a cupboard door. If your goal is to eat more healthily and make more meals at home, for example, inspire yourself with pictures of tasty, healthy dishes on your fridge – or put them where you used to stash your takeaway flyers!

4. Find and use a support network

Research suggests that having a strong support network made up of friends, family and peers doesn’t only help reduce your stress and boost your mental health, but it can also be critical in helping you build healthy lifestyle behaviours and habits.

  • find people with a similar interest or goal. Connecting with people who have similar interests to you is just one way to feel supported, and to also keep yourself accountable when it comes to new health habits. For example, if your goal is to get fit by running more, then joining your local running club might be just the thing to keep you going. If you’re looking to de-stress, try joining a weekly art, meditation or yoga class

  • try a one-to-one buddy system. Partnering up with someone who shares a similar goal to you can help you both stay accountable and motivated – you’re much more likely to stay on track if you don’t want to let your partner down

  • get support online. Find forums, blogs and social media groups where people are talking about the interests or goals you’re working on. The energy, tips and encouragement from others can be a great motivator. You can share your goals as they progress and check in with others about how you and they are getting on. You can also find plenty of inspiration and motivation on our

    Instagram
    ,
    Facebook
    and
    Twitter
    pages

5. Get one step ahead of yourself

Another trick that can help you manage your habits every day is to make them as simple to practice as you possibly can. One way to do this is what psychologists call ‘editing and restructuring your environment’. No idea what that means? Simply put, it’s about setting up your environment for success by using clever hacks.

  • link to an existing habit. Say your new goal is to take a daily vitamin D supplement. To do this, keep the supplement bottle next to your toothbrush so it acts as a reminder to take the tablet straight after you brush your teeth in the morning

  • prep to avoid temptation. Another example would be to put your gym kit on first thing in the morning or take it to work with you, so that you're more likely to exercise, rather than give into the temptation to settle down on the sofa. Or you could try moving the biscuits and treats from their usual cupboard to another one, so you have to stop and think before you grab one

  • piggyback on your daily routines. For example, if you’re trying to focus on relieving stress by taking up breathing techniques before bed, consider a reminder Post-it on the kettle if you usually make a hot drink before bed, or the drawer where you keep your PJs. Or if you’ve promised yourself you’ll make time to talk to a friend more often, consider linking it to something like walking the dog by putting a note for yourself next to the lead

What’s next?

Now you’re armed with the tools you need to stick to new healthy habits, it’s time to get cracking.

Not decided what to focus on yet? Why not challenge yourself to completing one of our new 28-day health plans?

Download the Healthily
app and choose from:

- Feel Happier
- Get Fitter
- Eat Better
- Sleep Better

Each day you’ll receive a scientifically-proven hack to help you boost your wellbeing. Plus, we’ll be with you every step of the way with daily motivation and tracking, and weekly reports so you can see your progress in real-time.

You can also find plenty of inspiration and motivation on our Instagram and Twitter pages.

Key takeaways

  • set a goal that means something to you, that excites you and that you’re truly interested in
  • using ‘implementation intentions’ can help make your habits feel more automatic and easier to stick to long-term
  • writing down your goals or creating a vision board can help you feel more motivated, focused and confident
  • finding a community of people who have similar goals to you can be a great way to feel supported and stay accountable
  • restructuring and editing your environment can help act as a reminder for daily habits
  • download the Healthily app to try one of our 28-day health plans

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.