The 3 Steps Necessary to Build Healthy Habits, According to Science

Healthy living looks simple and effortless—at least on Instagram. It’s easy to imagine yourself going for a run every single morning (where you don’t sweat, you glisten) before coming home to make a balanced, healthy breakfast. So why is it so. dang. hard. to turn that fantasy into reality every day?

Besides the fact that real life is (sadly) much more complicated than Instagram, it turns out that we’re a lot less in charge of our behavior than we might think. In his book The Power of Habit, researcher Charles Duhigg breaks down why changing course can be so challenging—and how to overcome those challenges to live a healthier, happier life.

Step 1: Observe Your Habits

Think you don’t have a morning routine? Wrong. Even if you just roll out of bed, get dressed, and glug coffee, that counts as a habit. The first step to changing it? Just looking at it.

Take a few days (seriously) to mindfully notice what you do on autopilot, and how you feel doing it. Do you grab a fast food breakfast when you’re tired? Does it energize you, or make you feel like napping under your desk? Do you press the snooze button a few times most mornings? Whatever your healthy goal is, work first on noticing what you *are* doing—this is the simple-but-essential knowledge you need to change it.

Step 2: Tweak Your Routines

Habits have three components: cue, routine, and reward. Let’s say you press the snooze button every morning, so you usually don’t have time to exercise.

The cue: that terrible alarm screech
The routine: grumpily press snooze
The reward: sleep! (if only for five more minutes)

So how do you break the habit? Think about what your reward is actually giving you, and how you can tweak your routine to get to the same (or a very similar) reward.

Maybe you’re not really craving more sleep; you’re just not quite ready to start your day. What if instead of sleep, you rewarded yourself with coffee and a few minutes to read?

The cue: buzz!
The routine: make coffee and read for five minutes
The reward: coffee! (and a peaceful start to your day)

Suddenly, instead of pressing snooze five times you’re awake and alert just a few minutes after that dreaded alarm buzz. Habit, tweaked.

Step 3: Start Building New Habits

You did it! You’re now getting up earlier—but how do you, you know, start doing the thing you want to do?

Again, think about why you aren’t exercising. Do you not know where to start? Don’t have enough time? Try beginning with baby steps (maybe with just a walk around the block!), or with guided at-home exercise that fits your schedule (we recommend the audio fitness app Aaptiv that has everything from quick yoga to guided jogs and much, much more).

Let’s say your starter routine will be a 10-minute yoga flow. How do you get yourself to your yoga mat? Since you know you’ll be in the kitchen enjoying your morning coffee, why not leave your gear nearby to remind yourself that it’s yoga time?

The cue: seeing your yoga mat
The routine: grab your mat and follow a guided 10-minute sequence

Finally, the fun part: identify your reward. Our favorite way to treat ourselves after sweating? A nutritious, tasty breakfast—no cooking required. Voilà, your complete new habit:

The cue: seeing your yoga mat
The routine: grab your mat and follow a guided 10-minute sequence
The reward: a quick-and-tasty cup of oats

You did it! To keep your progress rolling, commit to a few weeks of your new morning routine. Before you know it, your brain will stop having to think about it and you’ll officially be on healthy-living autopilot. Congrats on your new habit (and a healthier you)!

To see more of what Aaptiv has to offer (and to save 40% on a yearly membership), visit aaptiv.com/hungry

Want to add more healthy, convenient foods to your routine? Get started here.

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