Many of us want to make healthy lifestyle changes to facilitate better mental health. Whether you want to get into a consistent fitness routine, eat more nutritiously, sleep better, or decrease your substance intake, it can feel overwhelming to start. Maybe you’re great at starting, but struggle to maintain. Here are four tips that are backed by science to help you make and stick to a new healthy habit.
1) Pick a meaningful start date. Birthdays, anniversaries, New Years, graduations, or even the start of a new month are a great time to plan a new phase of health. Research says you’re more likely to be successful if you do this rather than picking an arbitrary start date.
2) Start small. When you’re motivated to make changes, it can be tempting to decide you’re going to overhaul your life. But research says this is a surefire setup for failure, because it’s too dramatic a change. If you want to run a marathon but you’ve never been a runner, start by setting a goal to put on your running shoes and leave the house every day rather than starting with an aggressive hour-a-day training schedule. If you want to eat more nutritious foods, start by swapping out a bagel for a tasty smoothie in the morning rather than throwing everything in the fridge out and buying nothing but kale and lean proteins. This allows you to get comfortable with new things rather than jarring you into something you may not enjoy.
3) Make it fun. This is perhaps the most important aspect of facilitating lasting change. If you don’t enjoy something, you will not maintain it. If you want to exercise more but hate running, don’t make running your goal! Find funny dance videos on YouTube to dance along with, take a yoga class, go swimming, hiking, or do anything that you find at least a little enjoyable. Be sure your goal doesn’t feel like punishment: overly restricting calories, skipping a night out with friends, forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, etc, will not be successful. Make your goal the addition of something positive rather than subtracting something you like.
4) Don’t let a setback deter you. It’s crazy, but most people have an all-or-nothing approach to change. Change should be incremental and non-linear. If you spill mustard on your new top, do you then pour the entire bottle onto your shirt because “it’s basically ruined now”? No, of course not! Yet this is the approach many people have toward making changes. If you miss one workout or stay up past a new bedtime, that’s no reason to throw in the towel. Expect there to be setbacks and keep going anyway.
If you’d like help making meaningful, lasting change in your life, schedule a free consultation today.
is a feminist therapist offering online therapy to California residents for anxiety, transitions, and trauma.