2 Steps To Maintain A Habit Forever

If you find yourself in a lot of debt, struggling with financials, without an easy way out, you may think that a quick influx of cash would solve your issues. If you could be reset back to the baseline, then there’s no way you’d get yourself in that situation again. But many times, that’s not the case. Take lottery winners for example. Research cited by the Washington Post says that up to 70% of large lottery winners go bankrupt within 5 years. One day all your financial issues are solved, and within a few years you’re right back to where you started.

What about those who are obese or overweight? Many of those people say that if they could reset themselves to a healthy weight, it’d be much easier for them to maintain it and keep themselves from becoming overweight again. But this too isn’t the case. Take extreme caloric restriction or crash diets as an example. Research out of Wellsphere states that 95% of people who lose weight on a crash diet will regain all that weight back. One day your weight issues are solved, and within a few months you’re right back to where you started.

Why is it that these resets to baseline don’t work? Why is it that more times than not, we end up right back to where we started? Even if we can maintain our goals for a little bit, that progress fades into the past.

Your Habits Determine Your Outcomes

The answer is that our habits consistently determine our outcomes. As James Clear states in Atomic Habits, “Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits.” It doesn’t matter so much where we start, but the processes that we employ everyday along the journey that determines our outcome. And if we want better outcomes, we need to build better habits.

Last week I detailed 3 Steps To Build A Habit Today. These 60-second steps are quite effective at starting and maintaining a new habit for a week, a month, or even a year. But what is it that really makes these habits stick? What allows some people to perform these habits every day without even thinking about it? What is it that makes these habits into permanent lifestyle changes? Well, I did some more research and here are the two most important steps I’ve found in making a habit last forever. Till death do us part.

1. Design Your Environment for Habit Execution

We’re products of our environment. I have a friend that’s an architect and it’s always interesting to hear them talk about how much workplace or even residential design affects how people behave inside it. Want people to communicate more? Take down the walls. Want people to gather more? Create abundant and open meeting spaces. How you design your environment plays a significant role in the behaviors you perform every day.

A study published in Public Health Nutrition looked at the food intake of children based upon household availability. And while the boys had similar correlations to the girls, the correlations were a little stronger among the girls, so I’ll share some of the study results. In households where fruits and vegetables were always available, the girls consumed ~4 servings per day compared to 2.7 servings when the fruits and vegetables were sometimes or never available. Serve those vegetables at dinner and what do you find? The girls consume more vegetables at dinner. And can you use this study for the opposite effects too? Absolutely. If you decrease the availability of dairy at meals, consumption goes down. If you decrease the availability of soft drinks, consumption goes down. Simply by making healthy food more available, and unhealthy food less available, you can alter your behavior to consume a healthier diet.

As Food Availability Increases, Consumption Increases

I think this idea cannot be overstated. I believe it to be the single more important step to making lifestyle changes. Our environment drives our behavior, and we need to design our environment for healthy habit execution. Here are a few examples of how I’ve employed this idea.

  • Nutrition: In my kitchen you’ll find fruit readily available on my counter. I see it every time I’m in my kitchen. It’s no coincidence, this prompts me to eat more fruit. And if you look in my fridge, you’ll see prepped meals, vegetables, and more fruit. My cupboards are filled with easy access to nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains. And where’s the unhealthy food? I just have a small shelf that contains some organic chocolate. But that shelf is out of sight and hard to get to. These steps are the key to maintaining my healthy diet.
  • Fitness: As soon as I come home from work, I see my workout mat rolled out on the floor with my shoes next to it. My dumbbells, foam roller, and yoga blocks aren’t far away either. And my workout routine is left open on my laptop ready for me to follow along. It’s difficult to see that after work and not exercise! My environment is visually telling me that a workout is ready to be performed.
  • Sleep: I have smart bulbs in my living room that automatically dim as the night goes on until they’re completely off. This prompts me to go to bed on time each night. And then I have another set in my bedroom that automatically turns on and brightens in the morning. It’s difficult for me to not follow my own sleep schedule as that would require extra friction for readjusting my lights. (How to Setup Smart Lighting, Limit Blue Light Exposure, and Install Blackout Curtains)

These are just a few things I’ve done to design my environment for healthy habit execution. I’ve made the healthy choices, the easiest and most convenient ones. And I’ve made the unhealthy choices, the hardest and most inconvenient ones. All of this automates my behavior to consistently make good choices.

2. Choose Influences with Similar Habits

The second step I’ve found to be helpful is finding influences with similar habits and goals. Do you want to become a runner? Join a running group. Do you want to stop smoking? Start hanging out with people who don’t smoke. Simply by being around the right crowd, our behavior changes.

In the PHN study I mentioned before, they also looked at the children’s food intake relative to the parent’s food intake. And what’d they find? The more fruit the parent consumed, the more fruit the child consumed. Same with vegetables and dairy foods. The girls who had parents consuming four or more servings of vegetables consumed almost three times the number of vegetables than the girls whose parents consumed less than one serving. And although this study demonstrates the influence parents have on children, this same concept applies to adults as well. If you have a partner that eats more fruit and vegetables, you’re likely to eat more too. If your partner opts for soft drinks and dairy, you’ll tend to do the same.

As Parent Intake Increases, Child Intake Increases

So how can this be applied to your life? This step is a bit more difficult. It’s not always easy or convenient to change your friends or coworkers or your social environment. It’s possible and it’s helpful, but it’s difficult. For me, my dad is into fitness and nutrition just as much as I am so I’m in constant communication with him about what he’s doing and what’s he’s been learning. But outside that, I don’t know many people who are into personal finance or minimalism like I am. And it can be difficult to find a social group with those interests. So, for these outlets, I tend to follow various bloggers, YouTubers, social media accounts, and newsletters with a shared interest. Then I can learn from others, communicate online, and feel like I’m part of a larger movement/community. And this has helped me tremendously. So while this step is difficult, here is a quick summary of ways to accomplish this.

  • Join a Community: Try to find and join a club or community with common interests.
  • Friends/Family: Share your passion with friends and family to see if they’re interested in joining you.
  • Follow Online: Follow people online who are on a similar journey and interact with their community.

Final Thoughts

While implementation plans, reminders, and habit tracking are excellent techniques to start and maintain a new habit, you’ll benefit from a couple other techniques to transform these habits into lifestyle changes. First and foremost, design your environment for habit execution. Make healthy habits as easy and convenient as possible. Make unhealthy habits as difficult and inconvenient as possible. And second, choose influences with similar habits. Find friends, family members, clubs, or online communities that share a similar interest. Communicate and follow them often. These two techniques will make your habits last forever. They’ll transform your habits into lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes that’ll help make you healthier and happier. Forever.

Are you looking for an exercise program that implements these habit strategies?

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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe

Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient, and effective. I do this by covering topics like Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Cognition, Finance and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.


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3 Responses

  • Hi Brandon, Last week and this week you make great points in regard to habits. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been doing most of the things that you point out. They have worked a lifetime for me. Thanks again

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