Building Healthy Habits

A habit is an automatic response we make to something that happens in our daily lives. We don’t need to particularly think about habits, we just do them as part of our normal routine. For example, when we use the restroom we automatically take the time to wash our hand. Another example is the habit of brushing your teeth before going to bed. It doesn’t take much mental power to remember to complete actions that have become habits, but how are habits formed? Can we use habit building to help us achieve our health and fitness goals?

Of course we can! In a study published by the National Institute of Health, people with basic habit building training were five times more successful at losing weight than non-trained individuals.[1] The training consisted of only a small pamphlet with ten tips for building better habits. A very small time commitment to learn the basics of habit building can be the difference between achieving or failing at your goals.

Habits often take months to establish. When in the early stages of forming a new habit it is important to take small steps toward your goals, and not to change too much at one time. Choose one goal to work on at a time. If your goal is one that comprises of a lot of different steps, such as to lose weight, break it down into easy actions that can be repeated daily. A small change to your diet can be very helpful for your long-term weight management. For example, if your diet lacks fruits and vegetables, set a goal to eat one serving of fruit before you eat your lunch, and one serving of vegetables with your dinner. You can keep everything else about your diet the same, just add these two servings of fruits and vegetables to your diet. After a couple months of doing this, it will become normal for you to eat fruit with lunch and vegetables with dinner. Choose simple actions to add to your daily routine. If you try to change too much at one time you will not have to time to consistently train your new habit on a daily basis.

Notice in the fruits and vegetables example there was a habitual cue that prompted you to complete your daily goal. Eating lunch prompted you to eat a serving of fruit. Eating dinner prompted you to eat a serving of vegetables. Choosing a time and a place to achieve your daily goal programs your brain to prompt that action every time it encountered that same situation. Within a few months of continued practice, meaning completing the goal every day, you will notice you will automatically complete the action without thinking about it, just like washing your hands after using the restroom.

Sometimes finding a time or place to prompt your actions can be difficult. To help find something to cue your actions to achieve your goals, try thinking like a computer scientist. Computer scientists use a concept called ‘if-then’ statements when they are programming computers. These statements are ways of telling the computer if something happens, then in response, do something else. Use if-then statements in your plan, such as “if I want to drink a soda, then grab a can of sparkling flavored water instead.” Or “if I am hungry in between meals, then have fruit cut and ready as a snack so I don’t eat junk food as a snack.” When forming habits, your actions should always have a cue that signals when it is time to complete your action that will ultimately build a habit that helps you achieve your health goals.



Setting S.M.M.A.R.T. Goals

When you set a goal related to your health and fitness, to give yourself the best chance at achieving that goal you need to make it SMMART.
Specific – When creating your goals, make sure you specify the who, what, when, where, why, and how of what you are planning.

Measurable – Avoid setting goals that you can’t quantifiably measure or track.

Motivational – Your goal should motivate you and those around you. If you are not excited about working toward achieving your goal, then perhaps you should rethink your motivations for achieving the goal in the first place. In the health industry sometimes you will find that the goal does not motivate you, but you need to do it to extend your life. If that is the case, use external motivations such as your family and friends to motivate you to achieve your goals.

Attainable – It is good to be ambitious, but do not be so ambitious that your goal becomes impossible to achieve. If you currently can only walk a mile before you are winded, it is not a great idea to say you are going to run a half marathon in 2 months.

Relevant – Ask yourself if your goal is worthwhile and worth your time. While a goal to eliminate gluten from your diet will help if you have a gluten intolerance, eliminating gluten may not be relevant to your overall goal of improving your health.

Time Bound – Set a time frame for when to complete the goal. Will it take a month, a year, a lifetime? It is up to you to decide, but a goal without a deadline will never be achieved.

Quote of the Week – 19 June

“Always keep moving, even if you’re just walking.”

We all start our health and fitness goals at different levels, but the end state can be the same for all of us. The secret is no matter how far behind you feel, just keep moving. Momentum and consistency are what will lead you to success. If you aren’t getting the results you want right away, then do not give up. Keep walking, crawl if you need to. The goal is to keep moving forward, to never give up, and to establish good habits.

How To Stay Motivated

Create a vision board:
Dedicate a bulletin board or part of your refrigerator to posting your goals and progress. By seeing your goals and progress physically posted on the wall, you will never have an excuse to forget a workout. This board could also include recipes, meals for the week, and motivational quotes or pictures. It’s simply a space dedicated to your health! If physical boards aren’t your thing, try making a blog, or using social media. By posting your goals and progress online for your friends and family to see, you will become more motivated to show everyone how good of a job you’re doing.

Set SMART goals: Make sure your goals are SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. You want your goals to be more than “I want to lose weight.” Instead, it should sound something like “I want to lose 10 pounds in 2 months by running 3 days a week and going to yoga 2 days a week”. This is more specific, it’s measurable (you can weigh yourself), it’s attainable (2 months is plenty of time), it’s realistic if you’re willing to put in the work, and you set a time frame to complete it in. If you don’t set goals that are SMART, you won’t know when you hit your milestones, which may begin to demotivate you.

Take it one day at a time: Your goals should lay out a medium to long term plan for you, but your focus should be on the current day. Don’t get caught up and overwhelmed by everything you need to do over the coming months. When you wake up in the morning, have a plan for your day that will help reach your goals, and execute that plan with 100% effort. By taking it day to day, all you will every need to reach your goals is one more workout.

Recognize progress: Sometimes we work hard to reach a health goal and we appear to be going nowhere fast. If you wanted to lose 30 pounds in 6 months and you only lost 10, it can be a very demotivating experience. But the way I look at it is you lost 10 pounds and are making progress toward that 30 pound mark! Any progress is progress, and recognize that as long as you keep working hard you will keep making progress regardless of how slow. It’s all about your health, and if there is progress, keep it going!

Make it fun: To a lot of people exercising and eating healthy is a fate worse than death. It really doesn’t have to be painful, and should be a lot of fun! Becoming a healthier person doesn’t mean you need to go out and run for miles or eat tofu for every meal. One of the best ways to improve your health is to find a hobby you are passionate about that is a workout by itself. Then any time you go have fun, you are improving your body. Some fun and healthy hobbies are hiking, swimming, and most sports will make the list.

Keep the ‘why’ in mind: It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it. The ‘why’ is the core of intrinsic motivation. For some people, knowing why they want to get fit is an easy answer, for others, it’s a bit more difficult. An easy answer may be to look good for the summer. A more difficult answer may be they want to feel better, but ‘feeling better’ is hard to measure. So the ‘why’ should be SMART just like your other goals. Regardless of your reason for wanting to live a healthier life, hold onto it. Add it to your vision board and look at it every chance you get. It’s the people who never lose the sight of why they are exercising and eating healthy that will ultimately reach their goals.

Watch motivational videos: It’s amazing how much motivational videos can alter the way we think. They discuss the core of our desires and the difficult actions that it takes to get there. Every motivational video is different, but after watching any of them I always have the desire to reach my goals and start right after the video ends. Watching a motivation video before a workout will put you in a mindset of action to achieve your goals. You can click here to view the top motivational videos on YouTube.

Reward yourself : When you hit a goal, make sure you reward yourself. There are a lot of different ways to do this, and they range from small items such as being allowed to watch your favorite TV show after exercising, or large items such as once you lose 40 pounds you will go on a cruise in the Bahamas to show off your new body. Regardless of the method you choose, set rewards for yourself for each of your goals or milestones and don’t let yourself get the reward until you reach the milestone, no cheating. This will motivate you to keep working to perhaps eat some ice cream for dessert or go to the movies and get popcorn and soda as a reward.

Author: Scott Van Hoy – Click Here to view the author’s profile

Quote of the Week – Dec 19

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it” -Art Williams

Whether you’re doing the 2 Weeks to Health Challenge or your own steps to become a healthier individual, set your goals knowing it’s not going to be easy. Along the way you will encounter sweat, tears, and often a lack of motivation. You must push through because health goals are worth it in the end. There’s no better feeling that hitting that first weight milestone, running your fastest mile time, or increasing your weight on the bench press. But in order to reach that feeling it won’t be easy. Push on, work hard, and stay motivated. It’s going to be worth it.

Do you have a favorite quote? Send it to and we will feature you in one of the upcoming weeks!

Quote of the Week – 12 Dec

“Don’t stop when it hurts, stop when you’re done!” – Anonymous

We will all have those workouts where we get 3/4 of the way through and our lungs are burning, we can’t talk without gasping for air, and our muscles want to quit. Even when it hurts, it’s important to remember that you will get the most out of your workout if you push through and finish what you started. Your body might tell you no, but your mind is more powerful that your body. Go in with the mindset that it will be challenging, and that you will conquer the challenge, regardless of the efforts it takes. Then when you’re done, you will know you are in full control of your mind and body.

Do you have a favorite quote? Send it to and we will feature you in one of the upcoming weeks!


Quote of the Week – 5 Dec

“Thinking and doing are two very different things”

I’ve heard friends and family say all too often “I’m going to get back in shape” or “I’m going to lose weight”. Those are my least favorite quotes. Those quotes show good intentions but not good actions. Thinking you’re going to reach your health goals is nothing without the actions to support it. Don’t skip the step that turns thoughts into action, because to reach your health goals they need to come off out of your mind and into the physical world.

Quote of the Week – Nov 28

“Don’t ever, ever ring the bell” – Admiral McRaven

This week is another Admiral McRaven quote. William McRaven was a U.S. Navy SEAL, and during SEAL training if you wanted to quit, all you had to do was ring the bell mounted for everyone to see. Quitting was easy, succeeding in training was not. If you set a health goal for yourself, it is very easy to ring the bell and give up. But don’t ever, ever ring the bell. No matter how hard it gets, always keep your goal in mind, and keep pushing yourself until you achieve it.

The Grassroots Health Movement

Encourage, Educate, Exercise

In a study released by the CDC in 2015, almost 40 percent of American adults over the age of 20 are obese, while an additional 30 percent are overweight. This means 70% of Americans are putting themselves at a greater risk of developing diseases such as cardiovascular disease. With such a high number of us on the heavy side, I began wondering what kind of culture this is creating.

The American culture as a whole has begun to accept that being overweight is okay. With modern medicine being as advanced as it is, and most people holding jobs that do not require strenuous work, it has become culturally ok if someone wants to live their life in the 300-pound range. I understand that it is wrong to push people to change when they are not seeking change themselves, as it can make people feel uncomfortable. However, we need to begin to create a culture that fosters more people taking time out of their day to work on their health. I don’t think it will take government programs to bring down the overweight percentage from 70% to a lower level. Instead, it will take a cultural shift driven by us, the citizens.

In my recent article about a grassroots solution to obesity, I mentioned that words become action, and action becomes habits. To add onto that, collective habit becomes culture. Culture has a drastic effect on how a member of that culture behaves. Let’s look at the military as an example. When young men and women join the military, they are all within weight limits, but vary in their levels of fitness. Immediately from day one, military culture takes hold, and part of that culture includes daily workouts. Within a few months, someone who maybe has never worked out a day in their life may crank out 20 pull-ups at a time. The military culture drives soldiers to stay in shape, the same as the current American culture drives people to underestimate the importance of their health.

What does this culture look like in the office? Let’s say you are working in an office with 10 colleagues. Statistically, 4 of them will be obese, 3 of them will be overweight, 2 of them will have a healthy weight and exercise often, and 1 will be in great shape and work out regularly. Regardless of which one of these employees you are, you can take the same three steps to change your office’s culture to make it more healthy: Encourage, Educate, and Exercise.

Encourage: Any time one of your colleagues decides to make a healthy decision, offer positive feedback. If George decides to eat a salad instead of a burger, go to the park with his kids instead of a movie, or hit the gym after work, be friendly and say something “That’s awesome, I love going the park with my kids. It feels great getting out and stretching after sitting all day. Do you plan on making it a weekly thing?” This is a subtle encouragement for going to the park again, helping George stay active.

Educate: Learn and teach. Always try to learn more about how to live healthier, and spread your knowledge. If your colleagues enjoy bringing desserts into the office to share, try bringing in a kick butt sugar-free dish one day and see if anyone notices. Take small steps to show that healthier eating doesn’t mean you have to eat tofu for every meal. If the office likes to have a company outing every once in a while, volunteer to organize the next event and choose to do something active and fun like dodgeball. Show that exercise can be a lot of fun. Overall, share your knowledge in a non-intimidating way.

Exercise: This means set the example. To try to change the culture, get out and exercise, and try to eat healthy yourself. Don’t be like crossfitters and tell everyone every minute what you’re doing. When you’re looking good, eventually someone will mention it or ask for help, providing the opportunity to share your knowledge.

If everything goes well, encouraging, educating, and exercising will motivate a couple of your colleagues to start making some changes to live healthier. Now you might have 3, 4, or even 5 of your co-workers talking consistently about your health as common office talk. A culture of healthy living has begun to form.

It only takes one person to change the culture of a small group, but it takes time. As more small groups, families, or friends groups change their health culture, soon the collective American culture will begin to change, and the obesity percentage should begin to decrease. So be the change, start the movement toward better health, it only takes one to make a difference. You are the root of change.