We all want healthier habits in our lives, right? I mean, isn't that the point of wellness? But with all the talk of healthy habits, let's break down what they actually are. According to Rachel Miller, LMFT, founder of Hold the Vision Therapy, they're "something you do that supports your mental, emotional, or physical well-being."
You might think you know how to create healthy habits, but be honest with yourself. When was the last time you formed a new habit that actually stuck? No, I'm not talking about only for a week but one that infiltrated your life and is now part of your lifestyle—that's a habit.
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"Healthy habits are things we do consistently that help make our lives, spaces, and physical, mental, and emotional selves more functional than they would be without these things," Miller says. "For example, putting your keys in the same place when you come home can be considered a healthy habit. Doing this supports time efficiency when you need to go somewhere, reduces anxiety about not knowing where they are when you need them, and creates a sense of organization in your space."
We asked therapists for their tips on how to create healthy habits to improve the overall quality of your life. Here's what they had to say.
1. Identify Your Values
What is most important to you? That may seem like a challenging question, and for some people, it is. There are so many things we tend to value: relationships, education, health, wealth, happiness, etc. Depending on the person, these values will look different. However, when it comes to creating healthy habits, using what you value as a guideline can help.
"We often get caught in the 'should' of what constitutes a healthy habit but aren't invested in it, since it does not reflect our values," says Rachna Buxani-Mirpuri, LMHC, NCC, BC-TMH, author of A Pint of Patience With a Dollop of Love. "Thus, set goals for developing healthy habits from a place of what you value and brings meaning to you."
Think about the last healthy habit you tried to make. It probably sounded like "cut out all sugar"—very all-or-nothing. Now, reading that back, does that sound realistic to you? Are you really never going to have sugar again? Probably not, so it's helpful to change your language to reflect what is actually feasible and obtainable.
"Adding something to our lives tends to be easier than taking something away," says Miller. "Adding more vegetables to your diet will feel less restrictive and [more] doable than cutting out sugar."
Once you've figured out what healthy habits you want to foster, the next crucial step is planning. If you just say, "Oh, I'm going to add more vegetables to my meals," that's a lot different than actually doing it. Write down what habit you're looking to implement, and keep it nearby.
"Gather as much information about when and how things work best for you so you can identify how to add things into your routine," says Karin Gold, emotional fitness instructor at Coa, the online gym for mental health. "Planners and iCal/Google Calendar work well here!"
When it comes to creating healthy habits, rushing into it really won't help. You want to make it part of your lifestyle—you want it to become a habit and not something you're constantly forcing yourself to do. Start with one step at a time, and go from there at a pace that feels comfortable for you.
"Break the goals down into small, simple, and achievable steps," says Buxani-Mirpuri. And Miller adds, "Take a look at the habit you want to create, and be realistic with yourself about how to fit it into your life in a way that works with what you know about yourself and your lifestyle."
5. Build Mastery
The classic saying goes, "Practice makes perfect." That same ideology applies to creating habits no matter how big or small. We always say it takes 21 days to form a habit and 30 to build a lifestyle. That's about a month, so don't get discouraged if the first few days seem hard—you'll get there!
"Build your mastery in that one healthy habit, like painting, for example—learn the craft and increase your time doing the actual habit," says Mariel Buqué, holistic psychologist and Olly Wellness ambassador.
6. Hold Yourself Accountable
It's way easier said than done to follow through with your healthy habits. However, sometimes having someone by your side to keep you accountable or on track can be helpful.
"Seeking out a peer or mentor who can add a level of accountability to you as you set out to reach your goals can go a long way in aiding your success," says Joshua Marshall, LMFT, LCDC, of Connections Wellness Group. "This can help you feel like you are not working on something all by yourself and offers you a feeling of support and accountability to help you push through when things get tough."
Learning how to create healthy habits is not easy and requires a lot of effort. With that said, don't forget to reward yourself for all of your hard work. Not only will you celebrate all you've done, but it'll also provide motivation to keep the habit in full swing.
"Make sure to celebrate the small wins to boost motivation and resilience," says Gold. That can either be going out for ice cream, watching your favorite movie, or anything that brings you joy. "Show yourself gratitude for showing up for yourself. This small reward can have a big impact," says Buqué.
As with any habit, you'll have good days and bad days. Don't let the bad days make you forget about all the progress you've already made. Setbacks happen and are a natural part of life. Acknowledge the mistake, and move on. It's easier said than done, but you'll thank yourself for it in the long run.
"Accept that there may be times that you fall off the track, but look at those as learning moments and get right back on track," says Buxani-Mirpuri. "Understand that setbacks are a part of the process."
9. Adjust Accordingly
You might realize that you've made your habit either unrealistic or simply don't find it to be effective. In that case, it is completely okay to change your strategy. Find a new way that works for you. (Tip: It might take a few adjustments before you find a method that best suits your needs.)
"Any new habit, routine, or lifestyle will need to be adjusted at some point," says Gold. "Make things work for you, and try not to beat yourself up for needing to adapt or adjust as you experience and try new things!"
Now that you know how to create healthy habits, go ahead and try it for yourself. Remember, it's a learning process so it'll take time, but the results will be worth it.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.