Nearly all of us have wellness goals, whether you want to become healthier, build muscle, lose weight, or run a half-marathon. If you're struggling to achieve your goal, the issue might not be your training. Instead, it may be your habits that are sabotaging you.
In order to create and practice healthy habits, you need to identify your unhealthy habits. Understanding what triggers these behaviors, and encourages you to continue them, can help you learn how to replace them with healthy habits.
We talked to experts in the wellness space and scoured the latest research to learn how to eliminate our unhealthy behaviors and consistently practice healthier habits over time… leading to a happier, healthier you!
What Are Healthy Habits?
You can likely name a few healthy habits, such as eating fruits and vegetables or getting physical activity. There's a plethora of healthy habits that can benefit your overall wellness, but the habits we practice as part of a healthy lifestyle can look different for everyone. There is no magic plan for perfect health. Instead, the habits you choose to employ should benefit your particular physical and mental health goals.
For example, a 30-minute run helps you get some cardio. At the same time, another person's healthy habit might look like 30 minutes of gratitude journaling. Value both practices equally because habits for a healthy lifestyle depend on the individual's needs and goals.
A habit is an action or behavior you don't have to think about; it happens because your body and mind have become accustomed to it through repetition. Think about it in terms of automation instead of intention.
But, habits don't start out this way. Instead, they take consistency and practice. Healthy habits are actions that support our physical and mental fitness goals, and behaviors that are good for us.
10 Healthy Habits to Consider
Eat a diet of primarily whole foods. Of course, having too much of a good thing is possible. It’s essential to match your intake to your personal nutrient needs, even if you consume mainly whole foods that include lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and heart-healthy fats.
Honor your hunger and satisfaction cues. Eating when you're not hungry or eating too fast and ignoring your satisfaction signals can lead to unwanted weight gain. Instead, try to listen to your body. Often this means eating when you're hungry instead of mindlessly eating or eating due to specific emotions. Try to eat until you’re midway between satisfied and full, often 80–85% full. Intuitive eating helps us to be mindful of the foods we ingest and our portions.
Practice a consistent sleep/wake schedule. Getting enough "good" sleep is highly beneficial. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can help your brain sync its circadian rhythm to the sun. When your internal clock syncs to this 24-hour cycle, you'll likely experience less disruption and more consistent sleep.
Make time for daily movement. Taking time to move every day is excellent for your overall wellness. For example, going on a short walk, doing light stretches, or hitting the gym can benefit your physical health while reducing stress.
Maintain calmness. Healthy habits that promote mental clarity and peace can vary. However, meditating, writing in a gratitude journal, or practicing breath work tend to be the most common. Encourage a calm mindset to help lower blood pressure, reduce heart risk factors, and improve cognitive function.
Expand your worldview. Broaden your worldview by interacting with new people, trying new things, or reading new books. When you gain insight and a new perspective, it can help open your eyes to opportunities for learning and growth.
Refrain from smoking. Quitting smoking is another healthy habit that is routinely a goal for many individuals. Smoking is associated with health risks, and quitting can benefit you and those around you.
Monitor your screen time. Taking time to disconnect from devices and be present might improve your physical and mental wellness. It creates opportunities for movement or mindfulness, promotes better sleep, and allows us to be more engaged with the world around us.
Get outdoors. Spending time outdoors is excellent for your health. Natural exposure to sunlight can help you sync your circadian rhythm with the sun. Research supports that time outdoors positively affects stress levels.
How to Form Healthy Habits
While some of these habits may seem easy to incorporate into your daily schedule, life often gets in the way.
Christina P. Kantzavelos, LCSW of Begin Within Today, says the first step to forming healthy habits is knowing what habits you want to incorporate. Starting slowly with a few goals can be better than tackling every goal at once.
Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC, of Root Nutrition & Education, notes that creating small, attainable goals can be more productive than having unattainable expectations. Choose one to two habits you’d like to practice each week and do them every day.
It's important to note that these behaviors will only become habits after some time. Studies show that habits can take around 66 days to form, whether the habit is adding vegetables as a daily snack or meditating regularly. The time it takes a habit to develop depends on how regularly you complete the action. For the study mentioned above, participants had to do the behavior daily.
Because forming healthy habits can take weeks and even months, not setting the bar too high is crucial. Start small with your healthy habit goals, remembering you need to incorporate that behavior into your daily routine.
How to Identify Unhealthy Habits
In addition to forming healthy habits, the path to a healthy lifestyle may include ceasing unhealthy habits. Because these behaviors are typically automatic, you may not be able to quickly identify unhealthy habits in your life that prevent you from reaching your wellness goals.
Take inventory of your current practices and ask yourself whether or not they promote health and wellness in your life and support your goals, notes Kantazavelos.
If you're having trouble making a list, some practices can help you figure out which habits are unhealthy and why you may behave that way. Ask family members or close friends to observe you and give you honest feedback.
If that feels too vulnerable, journaling can also help you reflect on your activities. Journaling is also an excellent way to recognize your emotional state when the behaviors occur, cluing you into the trigger behind your action.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have a list of healthy behaviors you’d like to make habits and unhealthy habits you wish to stop, it's time to make a plan to put it all together.
Remember, research shows that anywhere from 18 to 254 days are required to form a habit. And experts advise that starting with one or two small goals is more realistic and beneficial than making many changes all at once.
Starting your plan with this in mind, the first step is to select a routine time in which you'll engage in daily habit formation. Having a schedule reinforces a habit. Write it down in your calendar or set reminders on your devices, says Alexandra Cromer, LPC at Thriveworks.
Locations can also be powerful cues that drive habit formation. For example, sitting down at the desk of your home office to write in your gratitude journal can help tie the location of your desk to the practice of journaling.
Likewise, the sight of your desk may subconsciously cue you to write in your journal when you pass by. Locations can also be motivators when we don't feel like engaging with a habit; once we are in the location, we may have the determination and will to complete the task. If possible, pair a location with your chosen time.
Try to engage with your habit each day at the same time and place. Cromer also states that scheduling makeup days can effectively encourage healthy habits when life gets in the way. If you had to skip your habit behavior one day, pencil in a future time to complete the activity.
If you're searching for extra motivators to encourage you to form or stop a habit, triggers may be effective. Emotions can be a trigger for certain negative behaviors; examples include scrolling social media when you feel bored or overeating when you're sad.
Recognizing and acknowledging emotions can help you to be mindful of likely destructive behaviors and, instead, engage in a healthy habit. Choose to do physical activity or journal when you're bored instead of scrolling social media.
Those around you can also be excellent triggers for habits. If your friends are active people who spend time outdoors, get plenty of physical activity, and eat well, chances are you'll pick up some of these behaviors the more time you spend with them. Similarly, avoiding those who encourage you to engage in negative behaviors, such as smoking or excess drinking, can help you stop unhealthy habits.
Morgan Bailee Boggess McCoy, MSW, CSW, recommends using a habit tracker to hold yourself accountable and ensure you’re implementing your healthy habits. Make it fun. Try a bullet journal and use some colorful markers and highlighters.
Just as there’s no perfect habit list for everyone, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan for forming healthy habits. You may need to try different schedules, cues, and triggers to see what works best. And remember, patience is key to creating healthy habits for wellness.