News & Insights 25 January 2021

Making your Health Habitual

The start of a new year provides a clean state, the opportunity to start afresh and a newfound motivation to create the best version of ourselves. For many people, identifying their New Year’s resolutions is a key part of this revitalising process, with a recent YouGov poll concluding that around one fifth of Britons will actively engage in establishing some kind of resolution in the New Year. Health-related resolutions dominated the top themes, with a focus on becoming more active, losing weight, and establishing better diets.

Other studies also highlight, however, that nearly half of all resolutions have failed by the beginning of February. With the new month readily approaching, now is the perfect time to consider how best to maintain those well-intentioned resolutions and establish new, sustainable habits.

More often than not, people look at New Year’s resolutions through the perspective of reaching a specific goal, be that to start running or to lose 10 pounds. Whilst those are undoubtedly good targets to have, the issue arises in the approach we take to reach them, usually resorting to quick, temporary changes that initially help us to hit those short-term goals, but which aren’t ultimately sustainable. Instead, taking slow, deliberate, and gradual steps towards a broad end goal is a much more effective method of creating long-term change.

An abundance of psychological research demonstrates the relative simplicity of habit formation – consistently repeating an action within the same context. In relation to health, this was evidenced by Lally and colleagues (2010) whereby participants undertook a self-chosen health-promoting behaviour, such as going for a walk or eating fruit, in response to a once-daily contextual cue, for example, following breakfast. Throughout the study, the automaticity of these healthier actions increased, plateauing, on average, around day 66. A logical conclusion would therefore relate to the importance of maintaining such behaviours for a minimum two-month period, enabling the instinctive and unconscious nature of habits to establish themselves. Of course, maintaining these new behaviours isn’t always easy, and so it’s important to start off with simple actions and smaller changes than more elaborate routines.

Interestingly, missing the opportunity to undertake your chosen activity every now and then doesn’t inhibit its habituality either, with Lally’s study demonstrating that routine quickly resumes following a missed performance. This evidences the importance of developing consistency in your resolutions, ensuring that you broadly meet your goals each week or month whilst not getting overly preoccupied with what you haven’t done – your consistent day-to-day activity matters more than what you do on any one particular day!

It’s also important to ensure that you don’t neglect the wording of your resolutions, shifting your internal narrative to frame them in a more positive light. Focussing on adding things into your routine as opposed to removing them, such as “I will start to…” instead of “I will avoid / quit…”, is a simple but meaningful way to cultivate a positive mindset. Whilst you won’t be able to change your life overnight, Oscarsson and colleagues (2020) suggest that these additive commitments are key to establishing habits and avoiding the typical New Year resolution drop off.

Ultimately, goal setting is great for working towards those shorter-term goals but, if you’re looking for real long-term change, then you must shift your focus towards changing your habits instead. Taking small but meaningful steps each day towards a generalised end goal is fundamental to establishing these new, beneficial habits and routines and we at KiActiv® can help you to achieve this! Remember –resilience and consistency are key to your success.

The KiActiv® Team