30 Days to Forming New Habits

By Lisi Bratcher | June 18, 2019, 12 p.m. (ET)

form new habits

Trying new things for 30 days can help on your way to creating a healthier lifestyle.

Everyone is different, but 30 days should be long enough to help you create a new habit or shake a bad habit. When trying to form healthy habits, some people find it helpful to try something new every day for 30 days to help them find things that work for them.

For example, if your goal is to reduce fat mass, you should be thinking of long-term lifestyle changes because there is no healthy sustainable quick fix. Focusing on creating habits targeting your well-being is a good way to approach long term lifestyle changes.

What Is A Habit?

Habits are automatic responses that are triggered by cues. They are formed via the connection between a frequently repeated task like putting on a helmet and recurring situational cues like getting your bike out. Habits and routines provide structure to daily life so that the desired behavior such as eating oatmeal with fruits instead of bacon and burgers is easily completed.

What Habits Should We Focus On Improving?

Eating and physical activity habits are key to physical health. Habits associated with fitness have a strong influence on health, well-being and quality of life — for better or worse. Let's try to develop the habits that influence us for better, not worse.

Years of research show that people are better able to change their unhealthy behavior as they age. In the case of substance abuse or gambling, 80-90 percent of people were able to moderate or stop their unhealthy behaviors as they aged. Overeating was found to be the exception. Only 20 percent were able to maintain healthy eating habits they worked hard to create.

The reason why we can not simply give up overeating is complex. Psychological factors such as the pleasure associated with eating play a major role. There are various other aspects as well, such as genetics, environmental factors like 24/7 access to inexpensive foods high in added sugars and fat or even missing sidewalks that make it harder to go for a walk, and behavioral factors such as low activity levels.

Why Creating Healthy Habits Helps Overall Well Being

Concepts focusing on changing behavior do not necessarily change habits. Specific strategies are required to break unhealthy habits and/or form new healthy habits.

For sustainable weight loss maintenance, incorporating habit-focused strategies is shown to be helpful. 

There are easy habits you can create to help you support healthy habits you are trying to develop. Think about what type of easy habits can support your good intentions automatically. For example, getting in the habit of setting out your running gear the night before is an easy habit to develop that supports your habit of running. Once the running gear is set out, it reduces the need to fight strong temptations to sleep in or to skip the run.

Once you have developed habits, they require less energy to follow than to break.

How Long Does It Take To Form New Habits?

At least three weeks. Inserting new routines is not easy. Despite knowing what’s good for us and best intentions, habits tend to keep us doing what we always do. They are difficult to change — any of us can attest to this.

To investigate the duration of habit formation, volunteers were asked to carry out healthy tasks such as eating, drinking or being active daily in the same context (for example ‘eat an apple as your 10 a.m. snack’) for 12 weeks.

There was considerable variation in how long it took them to reach their limit of automaticity. The range was 18 to 254 days.

Which tells us that we need at least three weeks to establish a new routine, possibly longer.

How Do We Change Habits?

Advice I frequently give to athletes I work with is to write down a list of healthy behaviors that do not take more than 15 minutes daily to accomplish. An axample: Prep your bike and gear the night before a morning ride.

Without getting your bike ready the night before your morning ride, you might lose more time airing up the tire, finding your helmet and putting the lights on, instead of using it for exercise time. Healthy behavior needs prep work. 

Change also becomes more achievable if you choose strategies that enhance your chance for success. An example: Pre-cut your veggies.

Your best intension could be eating more veggies, but if you have not been to the store, or pre-cut them, it might be tricky to grab a few carrots and some hummus as a healthy snack while at the office. Planning ahead has to be your friend — support yourself.

What Are Healthy Fueling Examples?

Here are suggestions of small changes that can be implemented daily. Either one of them at a time for several days or every day a different one.

  1. Reduce Added Sugars – snack on fruits instead on energy bars unless needed.
  2. Try recipes with veggies you usually do not eat. Example: red beet soup.
  3. Leave one cookie behind and replace it with ½ banana
  4. Add one cup of water every other hour
  5. Log your food for one day a week => check Macros
  6. Prepare a healthy meal/snack for the next day to eat
  7. Try a meat replacement product. Instead of a regular hot dog, try one made of pea protein.
  8. Use smaller plates for portion control
  9. Try a veggie juice, replace fruit juices
  10. Replace butter with an avocado in a recipe.
  11. Increase lean protein intake. Example: Fruit smoothie with 1 cup of fruit/ 1 cup milk/ 1 cup yogurt.
  12. Pre-cut some veggies like carrots and cucumbers and put them in small containers in fridge
  13. Don’t clean your plate until it is empty. Fridge leftovers.
  14. Switch to grilled chicken instead of chicken nuggets
  15. Use low-fat instead of regular dairy foods

What Are Active Examples?

Besides eating healthier, increasing your daily activity time can help you to lean out. Swimming, biking and running might be part of your routine, but make sure you have other active daily habits as well.

  1. Complete morning walk for 15 min
  2. Add 3x 5 min of desk exercises eg. Squats, Triceps Dips, Planks
  3. Find a TV show you like, and you are only allowed to watch it while exercising
  4. Get to an appointment early and add 5-10 min of walking before heading into the building
  5. Finish your morning jog with 5 min of bodyweight exercises eg. Jumping Jacks, Lunges, Bench-Push-Ups
  6. Instead of meeting at home, get a to-go-cup of coffee and walk while chatting with your friend
  7. Complete 10 min Stability Ball Exercises before you go out for a run
  8. Find the best fitness friend, who sticks with you, regardless of the weather
  9. Find a 10-15 min morning yoga video on Youtube you like
  10. Count your daily steps. For the next day, add 500 extra steps.
  11. Add 5-10 min stretching exercises while sitting in front of the TV
  12. Find fitness tunes you enjoy
  13. Complete ankle and foot exercise while talking on the phone
  14. Find a 10-15 min dumbbell or resistance band workout on Youtube
  15. Skip your working lunch – go for a walk instead and eat your lunch outside

Take Away Message

Choose a healthy behavior and try to build up a routine by doing it daily for at least 3 weeks. If you are striving to improve your fitness and well-being, give yourself time. 3 weeks are the minimum duration we need to build up a habit. Any healthy eating or activity behavior you can reduce to a routine is less energy and time spent thinking and deciding upon.

To increase the odds of success to lean out, learn about yourself.