The easiest way to create a new habit

It's easy to put off making healthy changes if they seem like a lot of work.

Written by Sharon Curtain
Dutch woman with tulips in Utrecht

Some say making healthy lifestyle choices is all about willpower and determination. And for many of us, that’s enough to give up before we even start.

In her bestselling book Better than Before, author Gretchen Rubin suggests the secret to success is finding ways to stick to the good habits we know will make us healthier. One of her clever strategies to help you stick to a new good habit is the idea of habit pairing – linking something you “have to do” with something you “like to do.” In other words, adding on a new habit to another habit you already have.

How habit pairing works

We all have habits or routines in our day that we enjoy – things like our morning coffee, reading the news, having breakfast, taking a long shower, checking social media, listening to podcasts and TED talks. They make us feel good, so we keep doing them.

Then there are the things we know we should do, but we either forget, or get too busy, or run out of time – like going to the gym, getting out for that long walk, drinking water or pre-preparing some healthy snacks and a big salad for the day ahead.

The key to habit pairing is making a rule for yourself: “I will only do (the thing you like to do) when I have done (the thing you want to start doing).”

"Write a list of the good habits you’re trying to keep, but are finding hard. Then brainstorm the activities you enjoy that you can you pair them with."

Some examples of habit pairing might be:

  • I will only have my morning coffee once I have had a big glass of water.
  • I will only sit down with the newspaper once I’ve done the exercise routine my physio has given me (or been for my daily walk, or done my 10-minute YouTube workout).
  • I will only catch up on my favourite podcast while I’m cutting up my vegetable sticks and preparing my salad for the day.
  • I will only watch Netflix while I’m doing my yoga or stretching routine.
  • I will only have that glass of wine if I’ve had at least three serves of vegetables.

It’s also great way to make all those domestic duties less tedious. For example:

  • I will only check social media once I’ve crossed something off my to-do list.
  • I will only catch up on episodes of my favourite TV show while I’m folding washing or doing the ironing.
  • I will only listen to a TED talk while I’m cleaning.

Now it’s your turn! Write a list of the good habits you’re trying to keep, but are finding hard. Then brainstorm the activities you enjoy that you can you pair them with.

Just a few habit pairing rules can help you stick to new healthy habits easily. You’ll tick off the "have to dos", enjoy the "like to dos" and you can leave determination and willpower out of the picture.

Written by Sharon Curtain

Sharon Curtain is a dietitian with experience in hospital, community and industry settings and specialises in food industry process.

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