6 Ways to Create Lifelong, Healthy Habits that Stick
Here’s the thing about striving to get fit or lose weight after 60: As you run around spending wheelbarrows full of money on ab devices and diet plans that end up in the garage under an inch-thick pile of dust, you usually end up right back where you started.
Many of us want that magic potion – a fast-acting tactic as life changing as winning the lottery, discovering the cure for a worldwide pandemic or a pair of pants that makes you look slimmer, taller and smarter.
When, in fact, the key lies in a much less sexy, non-newsworthy action that… wait for it… actually works!
It’s about creating a “keystone habit,” a concept derived from the book, The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.
The idea of creating a keystone habit combines one important piece of wisdom: start small. This concept differs from others because this keystone habit doesn’t end with the one action.
In other words, one small change creates a domino effect by influencing you to make other, healthy changes that eventually become ingrained habits.
For example, starting an exercise program often makes people take a look at their diet. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to work out hard and then stop off for an Oreo Cookie Blizzard on your way home.
I’m not saying people don’t do this exact thing, but the sane ones will at some point realize the sabotaging effect of burning off 300 calories and then consuming 1,140 (yes, for real, I looked it up) as a reward for doing so.
Consider this: More than 40% of the actions you take every day require no actual decision-making on your part, according to Duke researchers in a 2006 study. You simply do them out of habit.
Think about it. You’re literally on autopilot for about half the entire day. Like a self-driving car. And we know that’s not exactly working out, lately.
If you normally get up in the morning and brush your teeth, you don’t, for example, debate as to whether you’re “in the mood” to brush your teeth or decide to switch around your whole morning routine for no reason.
You just do it. Anything else is just crazy pants.
Imagine incorporating any new change — eating fruit and yogurt for breakfast, heading to the gym, etc. — so thoroughly that it’s also no longer a decision.
That, my friend, is the ultimate goal of any healthy change. Here’s how to create your own lifelong, healthy habit once and for all:
Pick Your Keystone Habit
If your goal is to get fit, for example, your keystone habit may be to take a 10-minute walk every evening or morning.
Make a List of Unexpected Benefits
This may include sleeping better, feeling more mentally alert, energized, etc. Keep this list in mind and add to it as you see the spillover benefits of your new habit.
Keep in mind it takes an average of 66 days to create a new habit, although this varies anywhere from a couple of weeks to more than a year. Give yourself time and keep chugging along. It gets easier with time, trust me.
Keep Track of Your Progress
We tend to underestimate how far we’ve come, especially when we make small changes. It can be easy to toss it all aside when you don’t see massive results. I suggest keeping some sort of diary or calendar where you can readily see your progress.
Focus on the Journey, Not the Results
It’s extremely necessary, though not easy to do, to ignore the results and focus on the ride. Every person I’ve ever talked to who’s lost a large amount of weight (100+ lbs) tells me they took it one day at a time.
Focus on today.
When you go for your walk, smell the fresh air, focus on your steps, think of how good it feels to be alive, for cripe’s sake! The results will happen and eventually become part of what you do without thinking about it.
Add to Your Keystone Habit
Once you’ve established a routine, add another action. Now that you’re in the habit of walking nearly every day, try adding a salad to your lunch meal, or a couple days of weight training, etc.
Keep going and “stacking” these habits until they become part of that 40% of the automatic rituals you do without thinking.
What do you think? Do you have a habit you do regularly that started this way? Or would you like to start one? Let’s chat!
Linda Melone, 57, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight. You can visit her website for more information.