Maintaining Healthy Habits-In Five Simple Steps


Step One: Choose Wisely

Think about what aspects of your health you'd like to change and what habits will bring the most benefit, and you're more likely to choose the best changes to make. mattjeacock/ Getty Images

Many people have excessive levels of stress in their lives and it often affects their health, happiness, and other areas of their lives. (In fact, it’s been estimated that more than 90% of ​health problems that bring people into the doctor’s office are stress-related!) But while virtually all of us could benefit from adding healthy habits to our lifestyle, it’s harder to begin a new habit than it seems, especially when you’re already overscheduled and overstressed! The following steps can help you navigate a clear path from your good intentions to the reality of a healthier, happier lifestyle that includes less stress. Ready? Here we go!

Step One: Choose Your Activity Wisely:
The first step in creating a healthy new habit that will be a long-term staple in your lifestyle is to choose an activity that fits well with who you are and how you live. If you don’t, you may find that you’re working against personality and lifestyle factors that are too ingrained to change, and your new healthy habit never quite takes root.

When choosing a new practice, keep in mind factors like your strengths, your schedule, and lifestyle, and the complexity of the new habit, as well as your current stress level and time available, and find an activity that fits well with all of these variables.

If you don't know where to start, consider monitoring basic health behaviors like sleeping, eating, hydration, movement, and stress management, and see which area you need to improve upon most.

For a more in-depth look at how to choose the best activity for you, take The Stress Reliever Personality Test, which will assess which stress relievers would work best for your lifestyle and personality, and provide you with a list. You can also read more here about choosing the right habits to adopt.


Step Two: Build The New Habit into Your Schedule

Put your plans into writing and they become easier to prioritize. Peter Dazeley/ Getty Images

If you don’t have a specific plan for sticking with a new habit, it’s all too easy to find that your already-packed schedule won’t allow you the ‘spare time’ necessary to do anything new very often. You’ll be too busy, too tired, or will easily find another excuse to let inertia snuff out your best intentions. That’s why a crucial next step is for you to find a specific time in your schedule that’s allotted just for your new stress management activity. Whether it’s ‘every morning before my shower’, 'during my lunch break', or ‘weeknights at 8’, you need to have a time that you know is set aside for your chosen activity so that you won’t need to continually find a reason to practice your stress relief program.

Many people find it easiest to do things in the morning before they start their day, or at night before bed. Others find snatches of time during the day. The following articles have suggestions for all times of day:


Step Three: Enlist Support

Getting support from others can help you make those changes stick. BJI / Blue Jean Images/ Getty Images

You’ll find much more success if you have others who are helping you along the way. Not only will they give you support when you need it, but you’ll also have them to answer to if you feel like skipping your new stress management practice, and this will make it harder for you to make excuses and quit. One way to get support that is growing in popularity is to hire a personal coach. However, you can also get support by having a buddy start with you, or joining a class where they practice your chosen activity (like a yoga class, for example, or a meditation class). If you’d rather do it alone, you can always ask a friend to keep you accountable for the first few weeks, or keep a journal where you record your activity and success every day or at the end of each week. Whatever route you choose, it helps to have someone to keep you accountable, at least in the beginning.

Some great healthy habits that go great with a friend include:


Step Four: Use Goals and Rewards

Be sure to celebrate each step of your success--it can help you to stay motivated and on the right track!. Matt Dutile/ Getty Images

Although the great feelings you get from stress management can be their own reward, in starting any new habit, it helps to also have some more tangible rewards. For example, think of how teachers use stars and other tokens to encourage good behavior, or how you can train pets to do just about anything with a few small treats; none of us is above the power of a few good rewards, either.

The trick is to reward yourself for your first few steps until your new healthy habit becomes ingrained into your way of life.

The first month or so is especially important, as that’s the approximate time it takes for a new behavior to become a habit. The rewards you give yourself are a personal choice, and you probably know what would be the best incentive for your own success, but I recommend something small and enjoyable.

For example, when I first started going to the gym, I would reward every five gym visits with a new piece of workout clothing—that way I’d feel like I ‘earned’ the new outfits, and I’d also get the payoff of looking better in the dressing room each time I found myself there. Others I know have given themselves a "smart watch" or other similar technology (to reward regular walking), soothing music (to reward and use with yoga practice) or beautiful new pens (to reward journal writing). For additional ideas, I suggest the following:


Step Five: Check In With Yourself to Be Sure You're On The Right Track

Be sure to look inward and re-examine your choices regularly, and make changes as needed. Yagi Studio/ Getty Images

As you move toward developing healthier habits, pay special attention to how you feel as you incorporate them into your life. Does your new practice seem to fit with your lifestyle and personality? Is it easy to maintain your new habit, or do you think you may need to try something new?

If you find that you haven’t kept up with your new plans as you’ve hoped, rather than beating yourself up over it, congratulate yourself for noticing that you need to change or modify your plans—this is very important as it’s the first step in building a new plan that will better serve you! And, if you’re trudging along with it, but have decided that you really may need to try something else instead, at least you know what doesn’t work for you as well, and now you can try something else that you may end up loving.

All in all, it’s best to learn several new stress relievers and stress management techniques anyway, to have a few options available for reducing stress in your body and mind. (For ideas on what to try, visit this article on how to choose a stress management habit you can stick with.) Good luck, and have fun!

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By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.