Tips for Making Healthy Habits Stick

Tips for Making Healthy Habits Stick

Apr 14th 2021

Changing our lives and behaviors feels like a monumental task. We’ve talked about those "weight loss" posts you see after the holidays, and why we’re ditching New Year’s resolutions for good. The reasoning? Neither of those approaches are sustainable for creating healthier, better lives. They just don’t stick! (And they’re also built on fatphobia, toxic positivity, systems of inequality, etc., etc.)

But don’t despair, because change is possible! It just happens differently and a little at a time instead of overnight.

Small Goals Are Key To Long-Term Change

We really love the Tiny Habit method BJ Fogg talks about in Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything. According to Fogg, we shouldn’t try to make big changes all at once. In this NPR article she says that instead, “we should think small — as in tiny behaviors that can become habits. The idea is to make these behavior changes so small that they're easy to do.”

The Tiny Habit method is made of three main parts.

  • Fogg says first,” you take any new habit you want, and you scale it back so that it's super-tiny.” If you want to read more, start by reading one paragraph consistently. If you want to meditate, start by taking three deep breaths. “You make it so simple that it's almost like you have no excuse not to do it. So even when you're in a rush or you're sick or you're distracted, it's so tiny that you can still do it.”
  • Secondly, you find where the new tiny habit fits in your already-established routine naturally. “Ask yourself, what does this habit come after? For example, reading might come after you sit down on the subway,” Fogg says. “That might be the perfect time for you to open a book and read a paragraph. Now, you can read more if you want. But the habit is just tiny — you only do a paragraph if that's all you want to do.”
  • The third part is hacking your brain by calling up a positive emotion, by celebrating — whether that's fist pumps, raising your arms, doing a little dance, singing "Eye of the Tiger" in your head. “Whatever it is that helps you feel successful, that will wire in the habit,” Fogg says.

You can start implementing Fogg’s method today, and we encourage you to! But before you run off to start your new tiny habit life, let’s list a few other options that help those new goals stick.

Do What Works For You

Alright, bullet journal fanatics, it’s your time to shine. For those of you who aren’t familiar, bullet journals are the highly-customizable gridded paper journals that some folks use to plan their lives, track tasks, and they’re usually creative and include hand lettering or decoration of some kind. It’s basically like a DIY day planner!

We mention this because the bullet journal method appeals to people who need flexibility and adaptability. It works because you can change it to suit your needs, and the online “bujo” fan community is huge.

What can we learn from bullet journalers? That habits, like keeping one notebook for an entire year and using it to track moods, exercise, water intake and more, have to be done on our own terms and adapted to our specific needs. We think you should take a moment to see if bullet journaling is right for you but more importantly, the takeaway lesson is that flexibility sets you up for success. Is your tiny habit not working where you thought it would fit into your natural routine? Change it! Does obsessively tracking your workouts give you anxiety or make you feel bad when you don’t hit the gym? Stop doing it! Want to overcome struggles with orgasmic disorder but find that the method you’re using is making it worse? Toss it ASAP!

Have little check-ins about whether what you’re doing is working. You’re allowed to change your mind or routine at literally any time, so give yourself permission to adapt to circumstances. Work from home means we have more time to ourselves than ever, so don’t force yourself into believing it must all be spent a certain way at a certain time of day if that doesn’t work for you. Adaptability leads to success!

Get Used To Uncertainty

A recent New York Times article explained a study that found that of people in three different groups, the group who didn’t know which task they might be asked to do next were least likely to solve puzzles while they waited.

According to the article, “some participants were told they would be giving a speech, others that they would be rating speeches and a third group that there had been a glitch and they’d find out later what they were doing. All the groups then worked on complex anagrams, and the group that didn’t know what task they had to do made the fewest attempts to solve the puzzles.”

The third group essentially froze with anxiety, uncertain about whether or not they’d be giving a speech. Putting themselves too far into the uncertain future hindered their ability to make choices and solve puzzles, and it happens all the time to every one of us. How many times have you over-analyzed a situation, got stuck in catastrophizing cycles or couldn’t focus on your task at hand out of fear of failure? When we start to feel that way, we’re giving into the same anxiety the third group did, and we’re not able to solve any of our puzzles.

According to the study, people who handle uncertainty best are flexible, and don’t let their brains shut down when they’re nervous or anxious. And as it turns out, flexibility and getting comfortable with uncertainty and vulnerability are skills—meaning they’re not inborn, and you can work on them! Things like “messaging someone you met who you thought might become a friend but never followed up... [or] giving feedback to someone when you’d normally stay quiet” can help build this tolerance. Doing something even when you don’t know how it will turn out is a great exercise in flexibility and mental strength.

Are you inspired yet? Ready to take on the world? Hey, we’re not going to stop you, and if you have the right buildable habits, flexibility and willingness to be uncomfortable, who knows what you’re capable of—you badass you! We won’t be making New Year’s resolutions anymore, but we will be bettering our lives for years to come, and that’s worth all the effort.