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Healthy Living Blog

Information and inspiration to help you make a habit out of living healthy.

5 Secrets to Creating a Healthier Habit

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

It’s March, and you’re still at it! You’ve already come further than many New Year’s resolution-makers. But you’re not out of the woods yet.

These first several months of habit-forming are the most crucial. Lots of you are still feeling fragile and unsure if this healthy living thing is realistic and sustainable. Well, first of all, it is. If you'd like some encouragement from others who’ve come before you, check out our quick Q&A’s with inspirational members. Second, you need consistent reminders of what it looks like to create and keep healthy habits.

The Y's Registered Dietitian, Lindsey Joe, is passionate about helping people in our community learn to make healthier choices.

"While there's no magic pill or potion for making yourself successful, there are definitely strategies that can help your goals become a reality," she says. Below, Lindsey offers her expert advice.

Once you've formulated a SMART goal—one that's specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive—then read and absorb the following five secrets to success.

1. People rarely succeed on the first try.

In the book, "Changing for Good," Dr. James Prochaska states that clinical research indicates only about 20 percent of people succeed at changing a behavior on their first attempt. So, breathe a sigh of relief. It’s quite normal to fall off the wagon multiple times. The key is to keep jumping back on. Lindsey says many people make the mistake of thinking that one mess-up equals total failure, which is simply not true. Maybe you vow to hit the gym five days a week and, after a crazy workweek, you've only gone once. Don't worry—you’re still on the path to success; it’s just more of a scenic route than you imagined.

2. Positive thinking is not optional.

According to Lindsey, viewing old habits as "no-no's" is not the best approach. "When you were a little kid and your mom would tell you not to do something, what did you do?" she asks. "You did the forbidden thing even though you were told not to!"

Whatever healthy habit you're trying to practice, she says to frame it in a positive way. So instead of stating your goal as, "I'm not allowed to eat white bread," try, "I'm enjoying a slice of whole grain toast at breakfast four days a week."

Let’s go deeper. Do you want your habit to stick around for the long haul? Learn to adopt a positive overall attitude. "After all, you become what you believe," she says.

3. Substitution works best.

Many people try to quit bad habits cold turkey and fail miserably. The secret to ending one behavior and beginning another is substitution. Your body has become conditioned to do something, so to quit it without filling that gap requires an amount of sheer willpower that few possess. Instead, replace the undesirable habit with a new and healthy one. Lindsey uses this example: instead of making your goal only about subtraction, as in, "no more TV during the week," make it about addition, as in, "attend Dance Blast on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m." This replaces the time you would typically spend watching TV with exercise. Or if your goal is to stop drinking soda, consider buying plain club soda and filling it with fresh fruit. Then, you have a substitute when that craving rears its ugly head.

4. Tracking your progress is a deal-maker.

"This might be THE thing that makes or breaks your ability to hold on to a healthy habit," Lindsey says. "The truth is, when you see your success, you're more motivated to continue when things get tough."

Make sure to keep track of your habit daily to stay accountable. She often uses good ole pen and paper (like with this food journal) and also recommends these smartphone apps. Want even more accountability? Lindsey recommends sharing your goals and progress with friends and family who will support your healthier habits.

5. Staying small is smart.

Often, people have great intentions of making a lot of positive changes in their lives, but their excitement overflows into a huge, unattainable list. Over time, it starts looking more like a list of failures than goals.

"Bigger isn't always better," Lindsey says. "This applies to not only making your habit realistic enough so that you can reach it, but also to not setting too many goals at once." You can avoid this. Focus on getting good at one habit before tackling another.

Want more resources to build your healthy lifestyle? Check out our goal-setting tips, motivating mantras, and 30-day water challenge. If you're looking for a little one-on-one support, meet with our nutritionists or check out the free wellness support services at your center.

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