How to build healthy habits that stick

by Kaiser Permanente |

You know how important it is to eat right, exercise, and practice self-care. But making those healthy habits part of your daily routine can be a challenge. Creating a new habit takes time and persistence — but it’s worth the effort. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 out of 10 adults have a chronic disease. And poor diet, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol use are some of the leading causes.1 Making some lifestyle changes today can improve your overall health and long-term well-being. Whether you want to be more active or focus on your mental health, here are 6 ways to make healthy habits stick.

Stack habits

One of the easiest ways to commit to a new habit is to attach it to a current one. This is known as habit stacking. Your current habit may be eating breakfast every morning and the habit you want to add may be walking. In this example, completing breakfast triggers the beginning of your walk. After some time, following breakfast, you’ll go for a walk without having to think about it or remind yourself. Harvard Business Review reports that repetition is key to making a new habit stick.2 So, after you’ve completed this new series of habits a few times, it should come more easily.

The best part about habit stacking is that you can build on it. Once you form a new habit, you can stack on another, such as taking time to meditate after a morning walk. Habit stacking can help you add healthy activities slowly and form a full routine.

Start small

Every journey starts with a small step. If you’ve never jogged before, don’t try to run 10 miles your first day. Setting smaller, more manageable goals will help set you up for success. In fact, researchers at Stanford University found that achieving small goals early on greatly increases motivation.3 Start by walking for a set time, for example. Then gradually increase the time you walk and your pace. This will help you reach your larger goal.

Be specific

It’s important to be specific about your new healthy habit. Instead of saying, “I’ll eat healthy,” say exactly what that looks like. For example, “I’ll eat 2 servings of vegetables every day.” Or if you want to sleep better, look for specific reasons you’re having trouble sleeping. Maybe it’s because you find yourself scrolling through your devices, like a mobile phone, at night. If so, plan to set your phone away from your bed so you don’t mindlessly reach for it. Having specific goals can make you more likely to achieve them.

Track your progress

It’s motivating to see how far you’ve come — so track your progress. You can create a chart where you write down how many minutes you meditated. Or use a fitness tracker to note how many steps you’ve taken in a day. It might not feel like much in the moment. But when you see how it adds up over time, your confidence will grow.

Reward yourself

Changing your habits takes hard work and commitment. Don’t forget to celebrate! Find fun ways to acknowledge your milestones and reward yourself, like treating yourself to a movie. Or find ways to add your celebration to your healthy habit. For example, invite friends to meet you for a hike.

Find a bigger purpose

Sometimes, the more immediate benefits of healthy habits aren’t enough to motivate us. That’s why attaching your healthy habit to a bigger purpose can be helpful. Your purpose could be that you’d like to do more activities with your grandchildren or be able to enjoy an active retirement. Connecting the why to a healthy habit is a powerful way to stay motivated.

1 “Chronic Diseases in America,”, accessed July 7, 2022.

2Kristi DePaul, ”What Does It Really Take To Build A New Habit?”, Harvard Business Review, February 2, 2021.

3Louise Lee, “Focus on Small Steps First, Then Shift to the Larger Goal,” Insights by Stanford Business, Stanford Graduate School of Business, May 17, 2017.