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How to form healthy habits in 2017

  • January 4, 2017 3:53 PM EST

    For many of us, the start of a New Year means setting resolutions for things we would like to change about ourselves in order to live a healthier life.  Typically these relate to stopping “bad” habits such as eating unhealthily, not exercising enough, not getting enough sleep, or smoking.  However, statistics suggest that despite 40% of people setting New Year’s resolutions, only 8% of people actually achieve them, while the vast majority abandon their efforts before the end of January.  This is a sobering statistic that causes many people to avoid making resolutions altogether, which can lead to the perpetuation of unhealthy habits. 

    What I prefer to do is to look at the New Year as the perfect time to form healthier habits.  In other words, rather than looking at your health and wellness goals in 2017 as resolutions, why not consider them new habits?  Below are ten strategies for habit change from Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before, a book all about habit formation.  Each of these strategies helps people to form new habits (or break old habits), and thus will allow you to incorporate healthy habits into your life long-term. 

    1. Foundation: In order to change other habits, it is important to ensure that your foundation habits are under control.  This prevents you from becoming physically or mentally depleted, which gives you the energy and self-control to follow healthy habits more effortlessly.  The four Foundation habits are getting enough sleep, getting some exercise, creating external order (removing clutter), and managing eating and drinking.

    2. Clean slate: Any time a new situation emerges in your life such as a New Year, new job, new home, or new family member, it is the perfect opportunity to introduce a new habit.  Take advantage of this opportunity to start a new healthy habit such as bringing your lunch to work each day.
    3. Abstaining: For many people, moderation is difficult and abstaining is easier.  In other words, if you have difficulty indulging in something in small quantities (e.g., eating just one piece of chocolate), it is better to abstain altogether.  Use this strategy to decrease unhealthy habits such as eating too many snacks or sugary treats (i.e., avoid them completely).

    4. Convenience: Make it as convenient as possible to engage in healthy habits and difficult to engage in unhealthy habits.  For example, keep only healthy snacks at work or pay a little more money to go to a gym or yoga studio that is close to your house.

    5. Monitoring: Keep track of the habit(s) you are trying to change such as how much/what you are eating and how often you are exercising.  You can do this by keeping a keeping a journal or wearing a pedometer/activity monitor.  You can also monitor eating by watching your portions and not snacking out of the bag or container. 

    6. Safeguards: Anticipate temptations or changes in routine and plan ahead.  For example, what will you eat when dining out with friends?  Or how will you maintain your exercise routine when traveling for work or vacationing?
    7. Accountability: For many people, forming new habits is easiest when there is external accountability.  Ask a friend or family member to call you on unhealthy habits or engage in your healthy habits with you (e.g., plan to go to a yoga class together).

    8. Pairing: This simply means only doing one activity when you are doing something else.  For example, watch Netflix only when you’re on the elliptical or treadmill or eat only when you are sitting at the dinner table.

    9. Scheduling: For most people, having something in your calendar or agenda means that it is more likely to get done.  So, consider signing up for work-out or yoga classes ahead of time so that you are more likely to go.

      10.  Loopholes: Watch out for common loopholes that will derail your habit formation strategies.  Examples include the tomorrow loophole (what I do today doesn’t matter, I’ll start my new habit tomorrow), one-coin (what difference does this one treat or one trip to the gym make?), and fake self-actualization (you only live once, so I better not pass this up!). 

    Marie K. Holowaychuk, DVM, DACVECC is a small animal emergency and critical care specialist and certified yoga and meditation teacher who also has an invested interest in the health and well-being of veterinary professionals.  She organizes Veterinary Wellness Workshops & Retreats for veterinarians, technicians, and other veterinary care providers.  To sign up for newsletters containing information regarding these events and veterinary wellness topics, please click here.  More information can be found at