Making Good Habits Stick

Developing life habits requires hard work, effort, and intentionality. Start with a plan that encourages you to build on your successes and be wary of plans requiring overwhelming life changes and restrictions.

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

–Life’s Little Instruction Book


Deciding to make a life change takes courage.  Making the life change into a habit requires determination, steadfastness, and endurance because it takes time and there are many failures along the way.  All of us have tried a new habit from quitting smoking, losing weight, exercising more, slowing down, being more positive, to ________  .  Most of us can name New Year’s Resolutions we have tried and failed, and some of us have stopped making them altogether knowing they are abandoned and forgotten about 14-days later. 

Many experts believe it takes only 21-days to create a new habit or break an existing behavior.  In reality, it depends on the personality of the person, ability to adapt to change, and the complexity of desired outcome.  Some habits such as developing a new exercise routine, quitting smoking, or eating healthy, can take up to six months or a year.  According to Charles Duhigg, a New York Times business reporter and author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, it takes time for the new behavior and change to become autonomic but each time you perform the habit “there’s a thickening of neural pathways. It’s more automatic the third time than the first, and even more automatic the 21st time. Every single time you do it, it gets easier and easier, and eventually you cross the line in the sand where it feels automatic and it’s an almost thoughtless activity.” 

Adding vs. Restriction

Often patients tell me they want to begin losing weight.  When I ask about their plan they tell me of new diet they are going to follow, generally something very radical that is the latest craze and offering the fastest results.  It usually comes down to a plan to eradicate all the foods they love and eat often for raw vegetables and, if they are lucky, an occasional bland piece of chicken breast.  What I first encourage patients to do is to begin adding 3 healthy choices into their daily routines; such as a piece of fruit, a Greek yogurt, and a bottle of water.  It is easier for the brain to remain engaged in adding a new change than it is to begin restricting already developed routines and habits.  Once one of the new foods becomes an autonomic habit then add a few more healthy choices.  This way a person is building on successes versus seeing failure after failure, thus giving up before the goal is accomplished.  Researchers are finding it is easier to add a new daily behavior than it is to restrict already developed habits. 

Proper tools

Thanksgiving Day 2012 was our first run together and we had decided earlier in the month that we were going to make this a life habit.  Before we took that first run, I knew we needed the right equipment to help us be successful so our first stop was into a local running store; they analyzed our stride and run, and then fitted us in the right shoes and made us customized orthotics.  It was good chunk of change, but it was an investment in our success.

Since winter was just around the corner, we then bought clothing for the season to keep us warm, yet dry.  This meant layers of wick-away clothing to pull sweat from the skin to the outside of the clothing where it dries immediately.  Having the proper clothing from sports bra, to compression shorts, to running gloves would give us one less excuse for failure and also give us good memories of when the run is completed.  No matter the habit one desires to implement, equipping yourself with the proper tools is a must.

Developing a Plan

Since we had tried and failed to become regular runners before we knew we needed to research a plan with proven success.  After talking to experienced marathoners and using search engines we settled on the Couch to 5K App for our iPhones.  The plan is brilliant in its simplicity, so going into it we felt confident since it required an initial commitment of just 3-times per week of 30 minutes each.  

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