The concept of creating healthy new “habits” is extremely popular. Whether you’re getting into a morning yoga routine, going onto a low carb diet, or trying to get a tight 8 hours of sleep every night, each habit can have great effects on your health for a while — that is, until it gets shoved to the back burner.
The problem is, as long as you view something as merely “a new habit,” it’s just a matter of time before it becomes a habit of the past. If you want a new health initiative to have a genuine, long-lasting impact, you must make an effort to shift your healthy habits to a sustainable healthy lifestyle.
The struggle to change
It’s easy to change a habit for a day, a week, or even a month, but more often than not, at some point or another, you drift back to your original behavior (or a slightly altered version of it). The problem in this relapse is often rooted in the motivation for your change.
If, for instance, you go on a diet to clean up your health purely because someone made a comment about your weight, or it was suggested by a friend after they read about it in a magazine, you’re not likely to find much success. This is because when a healthy habit is predicated on guilt, fear, or regret, it’s doomed to failure.
However, if instead of the previous example, you find that your acid reflux is absolutely unbearable or you genuinely feel the exhaustion and pain of struggling with obesity, you can motivate yourself to do something about it — a path that is much more likely to yield genuine lifestyle change.
Along with self-motivation, it’s important to remain positive in your thinking. If, for instance, you begrudgingly change your eating habits purely because it’s the “lesser of two evils,” you’re less likely to maintain a solid mental front against the temptation to relapse. However, if you can genuinely see the change as a positive move, this mindset can be a critical factor in maintaining your success over time.
To summarize, when it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, negative attitudes, including guilt, fear, and regret, facilitate failure whereas self-motivation and positive attitudes are catalysts for success.
Creating a healthy lifestyle
If you’re feeling the need to establish a genuine change in the way you live, below are a few suggestions for ways to spark meaningful, long-term change in three of the most essential areas that lead to a healthy life.
“I’m going to get more exercise” is extremely common to hear, especially from those who are likely to never actually start exercising. Setting vague goals like “I need to get outside more” or “if I go to the gym I’ll be better off” is dangerous, as it leaves enough wiggle room for you to wiggle right out of the habit itself.
If you want to start exercising regularly, set specific, practical, achievable goals instead of unclear ones. “I’m going to go to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 6 to 8 each evening” will provide a pinpoint specific benchmark to help you stay focused and motivated as you get moving.
When it comes to eating, it’s easy to commit to massive dietary changes without a second thought to the repercussions that they can have throughout your life. However, the first time you sit down to a meal out with friends and you suddenly realize that you can’t eat anything on the menu, you’ll likely be tempted to toss the diet to the wind in the name of friendship.
Another common habit-undermining scenario comes in the form of grocery budgets. Diets often cost quite a bit in their raw, unadulterated form, and it’s easy to justify jumping ship a few weeks in due to expenses. However, if you take the time to treat a dietary shift as a lifestyle change for your own good, you’ll be motivated to take the time to sit down and sort out how you can eat healthy while on a budget not just now, but over the long term.
Even if you’re technically getting 7 hours of sleep every night, you may not actually feel rested. And if that’s the case, it’s only a matter of time before you relapse into late nights and wasted time that could be spent sleeping.
However, if you want to genuinely change your sleep for the better, you need to consider the quality as well as the quantity of the sleep you’re getting. In other words, how is your sleep hygiene? Try to create a sleep-only space, turn off your electronics well before bedtime, and look for other ways to turn the action of going to sleep into a long-term ritual of rest.
The process of change
Remember, change is not an event or an on-off switch. It’s a process — and a process that can often take a few tries, at that. However, if you can approach creating lifestyle change with a “three steps forward, one step back” mentality, you’ll be able to build towards a genuine level of healthiness that can be sustained for years to come.
Right now, people are talking about health and wellbeing across various communities on HealthUnlocked. Join for free, and connect with and learn from others like you.
Written by Noah Rue
Noah is a journalist and a digital nomad, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn’t frantically updating his news feeds, he likes to shut off his devices, head to the beach and read detective novels from the 1930s.