How to form habits and make them stick

How to form habits and make them stick

Published on 26th February, 2020 at 02:51 pm

Dream of getting fit, losing weight or generally being healthier? It starts with forming habits that stick – often the hardest part. So we asked the experts how to form habits, so you can live the rewarding life you want.

Why are habits important?

Let’s start with what life would be like if habits didn’t exist. It would probably be disorganised, unpredictable, unstable and leave you feeling stuck in the same spot for weeks, months or even years.

According to research by Duke University published in Current Directions in Psychological Sciences, “Without habits, people would be doomed to plan, consciously guide, and monitor every action, from making that first cup of coffee in the morning to sequencing the finger movements in a Chopin piano concerto.”

In other words, your body is made for habits. In fact, up to 45% of our everyday behaviours are automatic, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Best of all, you can use it to your advantage to reach your goals, particularly when it comes to fitness. So how to form habits? Read on…

To form habits, be specific

So, where to begin? Start by identifying the habit you want to create, says Linda Remke, a master practitioner coach who owns and runs EVEOLVE Coaching. “This is necessary in order to bring it to your consciousness so you can start working with it.” She also notes the importance of naming and committing to the desire to change a habit. “It requires action with intention and having the end in mind,” she explains. “This is the reward, i.e. how it will make you feel once you’ve achieved changing the habit.”

Then decide how you’d like to measure your success in maintaining the habit. This could be determined by your weight loss, tone, strength or endurance. Whatever it is, quantify and track how your habits have changed, and therefore how your own fitness is benefiting.

Start one habit at a time

Give yourself time and be patient, even when everyone else around you seems to be further on their journey than you are on yours. Jumping into advanced training could easily lead to harsh self-criticism, which is the opposite of the internal voice you need egging you on to your goals. “Sometimes cold turkey is not the best way to approach goals, such as fitness goals,” says Michelle Merand, head coach and director at FitBox TygerValley, one of our 200+ gyms in the Sanlam Reality Independent Gyms & Studios network that Reality Core, Plus and Health members get discounts at! Click here to learn more. “If there are 20 things you need to change, start with one at a time. Get it right for a few days and then move onto the next one.”

Get committed, stay committed

Merand says there are no quick fixes or secret success stories because change requires a long-term commitment. “Once you’ve created habits by training daily and making the right diet choices, for example, it becomes easier to stay on track,” she says. “Small bumps in the road like birthday parties won’t leave you feeling like you’re starting over, but are rather just part of life and the process.”
Finding it hard to commit? Here are some tips to help you fall in love with fitness.

Have someone hold you accountable

Research published in the ASTD Handbook of Measuring and Evaluating Training in 2010 by the Association for Talent Development’s (formerly The American Society for Training and Development) found that you have a 65% chance of reaching a goal if you have an accountability partner. Your chances increase to an astounding 95% if you have a specific accountability appointment. First prize is to approach a family member, friend or fellow fitness buddy who you trust to keep you in line and stick to the schedule you’ve set for yourself.

But if that’s not an option, Merand suggests being your own accountability partner. “Write your goals down, say them out loud and be realistic with what you want, both longer term and shorter term,” she says. On a broader scale, involve your family and friends in your journey – their support is valuable too. Merand adds: “Surround yourself with people that push you and motivate you, people that challenge you to be better.”

Don’t be disheartened

There will be bumps in the road – no one promised you a perfectly smooth journey – but that’s what’ll give you more satisfaction once you’ve reached your goal. “Understand that it’s not always going to be easy and that you will need to display willpower more often than not, but that it eventually becomes part of who you are,” encourages Merand. You can make it over these bumps easier by joining a gym where exercise is fun and doesn’t feel like a chore, she suggests.

Find an independent studio or gym class that you love so much, working out will be easy! Click here to see our 200+ independent gyms and studios that offer a variety of classes, from CrossFit, yoga and Pilates to boxing and more.

Ignore the flashy images

Instagram may have been the inspiration that started you on this journey or pushed you to the next step, but don’t let it become a source of unrealistic ideas of progress, particularly when it comes to weight loss. “Social media shows us these six-week transformations, but they never show us the six-month follow up,” Merand comments. “In my experience, healthy weight loss is sometimes slow, but it’s long term because you have created a habit and not relied on a quick-fix starvation diet.”

Her final encouragement: “Things that take time, commitment, consistency, hard work and dedication are the only success stories that are real.”

Get on track to forming your own health and fitness habits by getting discounts of up to 80% on monthly fees at Planet Fitness, JustGym, Independent Gyms & Studios (Reality Core, Reality Plus and Reality Health members only) and Virgin Active. Learn more here.

Reality Core, Reality Plus and Reality Health members can earn up to 15 000 tier points a year for gym attendance at participating gyms and studios.

Want to learn more?

We send out regular emails packed with useful advice, ideas and tips on everything from saving and investing to budgeting and tax. If you're a Sanlam Reality member and not receiving these emails, update your contact details now.

Update Now