How to build habits that last a lifetime

A woman tasting soup after she has made it
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Esther Gibbons
by Esther Gibbons
18 March 2021

So you set those new year’s resolutions, but now we’re a few months into the year and you’ve slipped off the path. Not to worry though, Virgin Pulse is here to help.

As research from Virgin Pulse shows, the issue can be not setting realistic, achievable challenges. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and fall off the wagon if you’re trying to do too much. 

It happens to us all; we set ourselves up to fail. You know that feeling when you try to do it all at once and then you miss a step, and the sense of failure makes you think, 'I just can't do this, so why bother?' We use our willpower to resist temptation and impulses, but that can be exhausting when trying to change too much at once. 

Let's liken it to running a marathon. You wouldn't go out and try to run 26 miles in one day. You would slowly build over time, pushing yourself a little more each day, setting yourself realistic goals. 

Bite-size is where it is at. Changing and implementing lifetime habits is best achieved by taking small, manageable steps so you don't fall over at the first hurdle and fail. 

So what are habits? They are behaviours influenced by cues, routine and rewards. In his book Tiny Habits (published by Virgin Books), Dr BJ Fogg, shares a method to help create habits that will stick, where you tie in a new behaviour to something you already do:

“I invite you to start practising a new habit first thing each and every morning. It’s simple. And it takes about three seconds. I call it the Maui Habit.

After you put your feet on the floor in the morning, immediately say this phrase, “It’s going to be a great day.” As you say these seven words, try to feel optimistic and positive.”

The recipe for the Maui Habit
Virgin Books

Dr Fogg says that this becomes a habit because it’s tied to an action you already do every day: getting out of bed and feeling optimistic makes it more likely to stick around. So how else can we apply that to habits that we want to last?

You want to start getting healthier, and you have chosen jogging as your new habit, but you need to get into the swing of things. Set your routine: “I will run every other day after work.” And tie it to something you do anyway: “When I close my laptop for the day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I will put my trainers on and go out for a run.” You could even leave your trainers somewhere that you’ll see them as a reminder. If you miss one day, don’t beat yourself up, just go for a run the next day. Forgive yourself for the odd slip. Just don't get out of the habit. 

A man and woman running together
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Then comes the reward. When you get home from your run with endorphins racing and a sense of achievement, it gears you up for the next day. After a while, it will become a habit, and you will no longer need to use your willpower or pay attention to it. It will just happen. 

Once you have formed a routine, it will become second nature. Whether it be exercising, healthier eating, or meditating, it will be part of your lifestyle and last a lifetime. Forget those resolutions, you will be a better you every day. 

Visit Virgin Pulse to find out more about creating healthy habits that last.