The Science Behind Forming New Habits

Abigail McCleery, MPH, RDN, DipACLMWellness Coordinator,  Saint Joseph Mercy Health System

As we start this new year, many of us are planning to seize the opportunity to set new intentions around creating routines that improve our health, increase our energy, reframe our stress, deepen our connections, and sharpen our focus.  An individual’s journey to whole health consists of many steps along the way.  It’s these small choices that we make daily that have far more impact on our long-term health than activities we only do occasionally.  All of us have made short term changes before, but what’s the key to really making them stick? When looking to incorporate any new habit, the science on successful change provides some tips:

  • Start easy – years of research in behavior change has found that if we want to form lasting habits, they should take little mental or physical effort, but be powerful enough to start feeling the benefits quickly. 
  • Tie to existing habits – could you incorporate mindful breathing while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew in the morning, or add in calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth?  Research shows that connecting new habits to existing ones is helpful for making the new activities stick.
  • Create a supportive environment – be intentional in designing your environment for success by surrounding yourself with visual cues and people that support the positive changes you are making.
  • Respect your rhythm – be thoughtful about where in your day you plan to incorporate your new habit.  Do you feel most energetic first thing in the morning?  Would you like a transition from your workday to spending time at home?  Designing a schedule that works for you is key.
  • Celebrate your successes – we often find ourselves waiting until we reach our ultimate goal to celebrate, but science shows us that it’s essential to celebrate each positive step we make on our journey to whole health.

As you look to the year ahead, remember each day provides an opportunity to make small but impactive choices that lead to increased energy, positive connections, restorative sleep, sharper minds, and effective stress management strategies.  Here’s to your personal journey to whole health.

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