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15 Strategies to Maintain Your Healthy Habits for the Long Run


New year new you health habits

Introduction


With the arrival of the new year, a surge of motivation, ambition, and drive to get healthier and fitter overcomes most people. It’s natural. It is a completely fresh page that was preceded by nearly a month of over-indulgence during the holidays, and to add to that: the weather is awful (in the Northern Hemisphere), so there is a lack of fun alternatives anyways.

 

January provides such the perfect opportunity to reset our intentions, let go of old habits that do not serve us anymore, and build new ones. Disappointingly, most new year resolutions are broken within the first weeks, only to revert back to the same old narrative from the year before. Only a minority of resolutions are actually kept, with true long-term step-change health outcomes. What separates those who succeed from those who do not?

 

In this blog, we will explore the factors that make habit change stickier (i.e., longer lasting).  We will look at different strategies that help increase the chances of maintaining healthy habits for the long run. At the core of the solution is breaking down big ambitions to smaller steps at every stage of habit formation. We deep-dive into the strategies you can deploy at each of the stages of habit change:

 

  • Week 0: Visioning & Goal Setting

  • Weeks 1-8: Short-term Habit Change

  • Week 9 onwards: Sustaining Your Results in the Long-Run


Let’s dive in!


Visioning and Goal Setting

Week 0: Visioning & Goal Setting

 

1)Reframing Health as a Priority


As a working parent myself, it can sometimes be difficult to make health a priority, when there are many other priorities you are trying to juggle: work, kids, household, admin, etc. I used to find my own needs and wants were at the bottom of the pile no matter how efficiently I tried to squeeze so much in my day.

 

Making health a conscious priority at the outset of any health journey will help you navigate your choices better down the line. It will help you dedicate the time you need for self-care amidst the endless demands of life. This is where the journey starts.


2) Good Intentions Do Not Equate Results

 

It is no surprise that having the right intentions alone does not equate getting the results you aspire to. The missing link in this equation is: taking action.


But before you knee-jerk into signing up for a new gym membership, take a moment to truly reflect on your health goals for the year. Setting your top priorities for health and wellness this year helps sharpen your focus and increase the likelihood of success.

 

3) Be Clear on "Why" Change is a Must

 

Most people who succeed at making healthy habits stick are driven by an internal driving force. For me personally, my main motivator, following recovery from cancer, is wanting to be around for my young children for many years to come. In a way, I am “lucky” to have such a clear reason for habit change. Choices feel easier when the “why” is so clear.

 

For many, reversing the early signs of aging is a strong motivator. For others, it is being a role model for their children, or proactively curbing negative genetic health factors, and the list goes on...

 

Whatever your unique internal reasons for changing are, write them down clearly, and keep them top of mind all throughout your health journey. That will be your rocket fuel, especially in testing times.

 

4) Create a Health Vision

 

Setting a specific direction and desired outcome is critical. It is easy enough to say, “I will eat healthier this year” or “I will work out more”, or “I will prioritise sleep”. Anchoring your vision relative to your current reality will feel more like “a burden” than it will feel motivating. It is like telling yourself to "try harder".

 

Health visioning is hands-down one of the most powerful exercises I use in my health coaching practice, because it helps my clients articulate what they really want for themselves. Health visioning is about creating a clear mental image of the future you would like for yourself and your health.

 

Imagine you can fast forward to 6 or 12 months from now and describe your future self in a few statements: What kind of person are you? How do you feel? What have you achieved? But the trick is to formulate your statements using the present tense. Doing so really helps to emotionally connect your present self to your future self.

 

Creating a health vision reinforces the desire for change.

 

5) Systems are More Important Than Goals


The health vision will give you your long-term health outcomes, but the shorter-term goals are what gets you there. "Goals" can be a funny term that rubs people the wrong way. I tend to use it because it conveys the concept clearly, but just use whatever sits best with you, if it bugs you.

 

Goals are like the building blocks of your health vision. If your vision is to “feel as fit as you were in your early thirties”, then your goals can be to make healthy nutrition choices, exercise regularly, prioritise sleep, and take time for self-care.

 

For each one of these goals, you need a set of processes or actions that will get you there: a system.


For example, in order to make healthy nutrition choices, you need to identify what you are optimising for (e.g. is it muscle building, fat loss, blood sugar management, lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation...). Your system might be meal planning on Fridays, batch cooking healthy meals on Sundays, and setting up some rules of thumb as to how often, how much, what and when you eat in a day.

 

Creating a system to follow when undertaking health habit change will make the change stickier. You will focus on following a set of processes. If that sounds boring and dull, I can understand! There are other ways to change health habits too, but creating systems is the most reliable.



Small habits start your journey


Weeks 1 to 8: Short-Term Habit Change


6) Small and Simple Tweaks Yield the Best Results

 

When setting new health goals and looking at them on Day 1, it feels like you are staring at a peak of a steep mountain that could never be able to climb. However, bringing your attention to your feet, and looking at the 10 steps ahead of you, you feel very able to move forward little by little.

 

The same applies to adopting heathy habits. Breaking a goal down into a set of small actions, in fact to begin with, only ONE action that you could take this week, is all you need to do to get going.

 

When selecting your actions, be as specific, realistic, and time-bound as possible. Doing so will increase the likelihood of following through.

 

For example, if your goal is to build more muscle, your actions may include doing more strength training. If joining a local health studio works best for you, then your immediate action may be as simple as researching your studio options and selecting one, by Friday this week.


You have now taken your first step towards your health vision.


7) It Is Not All Or Nothing

 

The initial weeks of health habit change are arguably the toughest part of the process. Changing one’s habits takes a huge deal of commitment, discipline, support, and sometimes even investment of resources.

 

Many people are able to stick to their plans for a few days or even weeks and then something gets in the way of their plan, and everything starts to crumble. The "all-or-nothing" mentality can the downfall of many a great intention.

 

In fact, health habit change is not a linear process. There will be ups and downs. Focusing on the trend is more effective at making habits stick than beating yourself up if you made a one bad health choice one evening (e.g., ate a whole pizza at dinner). It is all about how you bounce back from those sub-optimal choices that matters.

 

I have found that creating small “rules of thumb” for myself helps guide me towards making better choices. For example, if I overindulge in one meal, I plan to cut out carbs the next day. If I did not manage to be present with my children one day, I will plan to play a 30 mins board game with them the next day. Having no two consecutive days of bad habits helps me avoid spiralling.

 

8) Commitment + Accountability = Motivation

 

What if you had committed to researching a local health studio to join by Friday, and ….. you didn’t?


Holding yourself accountable to the actions you have committed to is at the core of making the initial phase of habit change successful. It provides the motivation one needs in the early phases of habit formation. But… it can be really hard.

 

As humans, we are wired to look for the path of least resistance. The moment things get harder, we procrastinate, and the momentum gets lost, unless we are accountable to someone else.

 

Why can’t you just be accountable to yourself? Because unless you are made of pure steel, you will cut yourself a lot of slack on your journey. It is possible, but it is definitely not the easiest path, especially in the early phase of habit change. In the long-run, once your new healthy habits are formed, you are able to be your own accountability partner.

 

Who else might you be accountable to? Your spouse. A friend. A co-worker. These are all good options, however, you must clearly lay out the scope of their role and how they will help you: reminders, check-ins, brainstorm ideas, etc.

 

The inherent complexity of accountability is exactly why having a health coach gives you a structured path to show up and be accountable to follow through on your committed actions. Not only that, but health coaches particularly help you navigate speed bumps along the way and can fill in the knowledge gap you might need to take the right actions for your unique health ambitions.

 

Your commitment and accountability is in place, so you become motivated to keep going.


The success rate of working with a health coach is especially high because you are investing your resources – time and money – into this process, which skyrockets your commitment and motivation to get the health outcomes you want.

 

9) Habit Stacking

 

Habit stacking is about introducing a new habit, adjacent to a well-established existing habit. For example, you do your morning meditation straight after you brush your teeth, or you journal for 5 minutes while your coffee is brewing in the morning.

 

Habit stacking is an over-used term in my opinion, but there is still benefit from considering tagging your new desired habits onto things you do automatically every day. In doing so, you increase the chances of new habit formation.

 

10) What About Stopping Bad Habits?

 

I find it much easier to incorporate new healthy habits than to try and undo bad habits. The latter is more akin to facing a raging bull head on, whereas the former resembles creating new distractions for the bull to cool down their temper. Not sure if this analogy worked for you, haha, let me explain a little better…

 

When you are hoping to eat less junk food, then simply using will power to eat less junk food is extremely hard. Instead, eating one additional portion of vegetables at every meal, or having healthy snacks on the kitchen counter, is much better at crowding out your junk food cravings.

 

Do more of the good stuff, and you will have less capacity to do the bad stuff. To take it up a level: Do more of the good stuff first, and you will have less capacity to do the bad stuff.

 

11) Design Your Environment to Help You Make Better Choices

 

When faced with endless unhealthy temptations that will knock us off track, it is very difficult to use will power alone to resist these calls for indulgence.


Managing the cues you are exposed to everyday is a great way of increasing the likelihood of habit formation. Your bad habit cues can be in your environment at home or work, the people you hang out with, or the media you consume. If you are hanging out at the pub with your friends every Friday night, it is very difficult to resist drinking and eating fried foods. If your cupboards are stuffed with ultra processed convenient snacks, then it will be much harder to cook up a meal from scratch.

 

Taking more control of your environment and influences will help your health habits establish quicker and stick for longer.

 

12) Celebrate Your Progress, No Matter How Small

 

In the initial phases of adopting healthy habits, it can be tempting to strive to do better as you go along. Every time we hit a certain level, we increase the bar a little bit. While that is great for achieving better health outcomes, it is imperative to take some time to reflect on the achievements you have made, no matter how small.

 

Celebrating your mini achievements reinforces your sense of satisfaction with the choices you are making every day and provides the self-recognition needed to keep going. It is especially important in the early phases of habit change when the results are not obvious to anyone else. You know that you have been consistently eating well for 3 weeks now, but the results are yet to be visible in your physique. Only you will know how far you have come.

 

As cringy as it sounds, take a moment to pat yourself on the back every now and then.


Sustain your results for the long run

Weeks 9 & Beyond: Sustaining Your Results Long Term

 

13) Recognise It Will Not Always Be Perfect

 

I am a big believer in that life is for living. While processes can help set us off on the right health path, remaining flexible is essential for maintaining results in a sustainable way. That is why I do enjoy foods I don’t typically eat (e.g. carbs, desserts) when I am out for dinner with friends, I will skip a workout if my family is visiting from abroad, etc.


These are choices I am comfortable making because I am in a position where I know I will revert back to my healthy habits, without much effort. My desired self is now my present, and everything becomes easier from here onwards. I have some rules of thumb to fall back on, like I will try any dish when I am out but I will only eat half the portion I would typically, I will never skip two workouts in a row, and so on.

 

From here on, it becomes about layering on additional aspects to keep continuously improving. For example, this year I want to really work on managing my mood better (especially with the children) through, breathwork, meditation, and journaling.

 

14) Reward Yourself

 

When on a health transformation journey, we often lose track of nurturing our innermost desires. We are so focused on optimising our health that we forget to reward ourselves.


Big disclaimer: I am not a huge fan of “cheat days” or food as a reward. I think doing so creates a wrong concept that the healthy choices you are making are a punishment. They are not. They are a path to achieving your own vision for your health.

 

Rewards is a fancy name for “doing something for you”. It can small and simple like taking time to have a bath every evening or buying new gym clothes. Or it can be bigger, like booking a holiday with old friends, or re-modelling your bedroom. Whatever it is, take a moment to reflect on your achievements and build in rewards to refuel your tank, so you are able to sustain your efforts for longer.

 

15) Make it a Way of Life

 

As you keep making healthy choices for a prolonged period, you will notice an identity change evolving. You are now the type of person who works out regularly, loads up their plate with fruits and vegetables, takes time to meditate for 5 minutes daily, etc. You are no longer on a diet, or a fitness programme, or a health coaching programme. This is who you are now.

 

Conclusion


The best health transformations are ones you can sustain for a very long time, dare I say, forever. The best health habit changes become a way of being.


Adopting new health habits can be a daunting endeavour, filled with ups and downs, and sometimes disappointment at the lack of sustained results. Proactively thinking about strategies that will help make habit change stick is essential for success, at every stage of the journey.

 

Hopefully, this blog has given you enough thought-provoking ideas you can experiment with this new year, but if you do not want to do this alone, please do get in touch, and schedule an initial free coaching call to discover where best to start.

 


Nada Soubra Resilience and Metabolic Health Coach


About Nada

 

I am a Certified Resilience & Metabolic Health Coach. I help busy, career-driven parents boost their energy, mood, and resilience against chronic diseases through realistic nutrition and lifestyle changes.

 

I set up my health coaching practice, The Healthy Chain, after a personal encounter with cancer, a few years back which prompted me to make health my top priority. I am now on a mission to empower busy working parents to proactively make time for their own health and avoid that nasty wake-up call, or to bounce back from chronic illness stronger than ever.

 

My approach is holistic and is tailored to busy working parent needs and schedules. I like to work on small incremental changes that will make a lasting impact on your health and longevity.

 

If you feel like your health is not where it should be, take your first no-regrets step and book a complimentary 30 mins Health Review Session with me using this link.


Alternatively, do join the Resilience Spotlight newsletter where every fortnight I curate a relevant and concise summary of the latest health insights, recipes, resources, and special offers. Subscribe here

 

Or follow my work on Instagram here


Thank you!


Nada Soubra

Resilience & Metabolic Health Coach

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