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Tips for Building Habits that Last

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

Building and maintaining healthy habits is hard enough, add the stress of what our community is currently facing and establishing rituals that feel right seems almost impossible.  However, now more than ever we need to have routine and healthy habits that ground us in the here and now.  Here are a few simple ways to get started in building a healthy habit that will last far longer than this pandemic.  

Start Small

Beginning to form a habit starts by doing something remarkably simple related to your end goal.  Let’s say you want to begin running as a healthy habit, or even incorporate more light exercise into your routine.  Starting small might look like putting running shoes on as a motivator or doing five to ten light minutes of stretching every morning.  The goal is to establish activities that are not too challenging that you can consistently do in a reasonable manner. 

Take a hint from Solution Focus Therapy

Solution Focus Therapy is often grounded in the idea that a person’s goals follow a S.M.A.R.T approach.  When creating a new habit be sure to ask yourself if your desired end goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.

Continuing to use running as an example.  For this goal to follow the S.M.A.R.T approach, you would want to break down your desire into the categories listed above.  This could be you establishing the following, “I’m going to run twice a week, in half-mile intervals, for the next month”.  By affirming this statement, you have determined a specific action, with a measurable amount of times a week in which to plan to run, at a pace and distance that is both attainable and realistic, all within an initial time frame.   After the period you selected, you can reevaluate how you feel and adjust accordingly.  Of course, be sure to tailor your routine to what feels right for you.  

Commit to Consistency

It can take some time for something to become habitual, because of this being consistent in the first month or two is key.  There is an idea that for something to become a habit it needs to be done consistently for 21 days.  However, this is not necessarily true, as a one-size-fits-all approach is not a fair generalization.  Typically, a habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to become established, with the average amount of days being around 66.  Since the amount of time it takes to form a habit varies so much, it may take a consistent practice, as well as a S.M.A.R.T approach to make your goals come to fruition.  

Implant Reminders

Whether it’s a sticky note on your bathroom mirror or a notification on your phone, having visual ques that remind you to practice your habit are important.  In this busy day and age, it’s easy to forget to do things that help us take care of ourselves, including creating new habits that would benefit us.  By implanting helpful reminders around you it’s easier to keep your desired habit in your conscious frame of mind, making it easier to incorporate it into your day-to-day.

Be Kind to Yourself

Perfection is a concept that does not exist in the real world, so expecting yourself to execute a routine that makes something habitual perfectly is not realistic.  You could inundate your space with reminders and still may forget.  You could also make sure your goal follows the S.M.A.R.T. process and still have days when you don’t practice what you want to make a habit.  That is OKAY!  Above all else remember that you deserve space of forgiveness and rest.  Listen to your needs and what your body is telling you and be kind to yourself if your actions don’t entirely align with your vision.

Lally, P., Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998-1009. doi:10.1002/ejsp.674

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