Making positive changes in your life from little to big requires motivation but also a realistic, defined plan to turn your goal into a reality.

How to build a healthy habit

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Making positive changes in your life from little to big requires motivation but also a realistic, defined plan to turn your goal into a reality.

You might have heard claims that a program can help you build a healthy habit in 21 days. In truth, building habits depends upon what habit you’re trying to develop, the circumstances, motivation level, how realistic the habit is and other variables that may be out of your control.

Choosing a habit to change

Prioritize what habit you feel would be most beneficial to you at this time. It might be improving health, watching finances, staying connected with others or completing a project for work or home. To come up with a list, consider your core values.

From there, make the goal more specific so you’re more likely to achieve it. If you’d like to be healthier, you may want to exercise more, eat healthier or lose weight. Now, implement the SMART method to reach your goal.

Set SMART goals

Setting clear expectations and a defined path will pave the way toward developing a new habit. Here’s how:

  • S- Specific: Narrow your goal and break it up into small parts.
  • M- Measurable: Choose a goal you can quantify so you can track your progress. For example, if you would like to drink more water, frame it as, “I am going to increase my water intake by eight ounces a day for a week.”
  • A- Attainable: Make your goal realistic and be sure you have the tools and/or resources to attain it.
  • R- Relevant: Get real with yourself to decide if the goal is something you’re willing to work toward.
  • T- Time-based: Set a timeframe for achieving your goal.

By using the SMART method, people can more easily see their progress. That clear proof motivates them to keep going until they create a new habit and no longer have to think about it. It ends up becoming a part of their everyday routine.

Staying motivated

Wide-ranging goals are hard to reach, and it’s easy to lose motivation. On the other hand, when a goal is realistic and measurable, results are more obvious, which, in turn, builds motivation.

Be mindful of your actions and ask before doing something, “Is this going to help me achieve my new habit?”

If you’ve fallen off track, don’t quit! One way to motivate yourself is to fill a shoebox with pictures or phrases/slips of paper that remind you why you want to achieve the goal. This may be a picture of your children if you aspire to improve your health for your kids. It may be a picture of your destiny vacation if you want to be healthier to travel more or if you’re saving money toward a vacation.

Phrases such as, “You are worth it,” can remind you that you’re worth achieving whatever you’re aiming for.

Denise Hall, Ph.D., CBC, is a licensed clinical psychologist with Sentara Comprehensive Weight Loss Solutions.