Adopting a new habit doesn’t happen overnight. It actually takes about 21 days, says Marco Palma, PhD, associate professor and director of the Human Behavior Lab at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. His studies show that a month of exercising or eating healthy is often enough for some people to continue these behaviors even six months later.
Yet a large number of people give up on health goals before the 21-day mark, and researchers are still trying to understand why. In the meantime, Palma offers this advice: Use quantitative measures to track your progress. “Nobody likes to do something just for the sake of doing it without seeing results,” he says. For instance, use a wearable device to track your activity, or get a blood pressure monitor so you can check daily to see how your behaviors are paying off.
What motivates you?
Another key part to developing better health habits is to discover what motivates you internally. Start by asking yourself a few questions, according to Amy Charland, wellness coach with the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, Minnesota. First, what do you truly desire in life? Also, how will achieving your health and wellness goals help you get what you desire?
Then as you’re setting your goals, make sure they not only hold meaning to you but also have a why behind them. “Finding the why will help you achieve lasting results,” says Erin Clifford, a holistic wellness coach in Chicago.
For instance, you want to give up sugar and processed foods because you’re on the verge of developing type 2 diabetes and you want to be around for your children and grandchildren. Or you want to lose 20 pounds because you just went through a divorce and you want to feel confident getting back into the dating game. “Both scenarios give you leverage to keep going even when your inspiration might be dwindling,” Clifford says. “By focusing on your why, you’ll feel renewed to get your lifestyle plan back on track.”