Many of those who set out to accomplish a goal such as the desire to lose weight, quit smoking, or save money, for example, are successful in their endeavors temporarily, but fail to maintain them over time. Lasting results require sustainable behavioral changes, which are best achieved through habit formation. In psychology, habit formation is known as the process by which behaviors become automatic or “habitual” through repetition. Let’s take a look at how habit formation, whether it’s breaking bad habits or developing healthy ones, can guide us through one of the most common wellness aspirations: weight loss.
1. Identify habits necessary for success
The first step in habit formation is to identify your goal for change. In this instance, the goal is to lose weight. It helps to be as specific as possible by establishing details like how much weight you want to lose and by when. From there, break the goal down into manageable actions by pinpointing habits related to your goal that you want to change. Writer Jason Gutierrez put it best when he said, “Achieving your goals is less about the result and all about the day-to-day habits that make it a reality.”
2. Focus on one habit at a time
Much like any other goal, weight loss requires several changes to our daily actions. To lose weight, ordinarily, you would need to adjust your diet, physical activity levels, and other regular behaviors. But it’s crucial to only focus on one habit at a time because it’s nearly impossible to change multiple habits simultaneously. As a matter of fact, that’s where most people fail with habit development. When you spread yourself too thin by trying to change several behaviors at once, you won’t be able to give each behavior enough time or attention to form a successful habit.
3. Begin to change your routine
Now it’s time to decide which specific actions you will take to start forming your habit. One of the best ways to do so is to anchor a new habit onto an existing one to help promote consistency. Say, for example, the new habit you want to develop to support your weight loss goal is to eat a more balanced diet. First, decide how often you want to carry out his habit. Do you want to eat a more nutritious breakfast, lunch, or dinner? All of the above? How many days a week? Next, “anchor” or attach this habit to similar actions that are already a part of your daily routine around that time:
- “After I drink my morning coffee, I will eat a serving of fruit.”
- “After I eat during my lunch break, I will plan healthy meals for the next day.”
- “After I wash the dishes following dinner, I will write down everything I ate for the day.”
A goal-oriented weight loss program—like WW—can serve as an instrumental tool for building and implementing healthy habits, especially when it comes to food. The program is designed to help you track what you’re eating and how much you’re eating, while also providing rewards to keep you motivated.
4. Be prepared
As with all things in life, things don’t always go according to plan. But by preparing for potential obstacles, you will set yourself up for continued success on your journey to develop healthy habits for weight-loss. To give an example, experts in the field of psychology suggest using “if-then planning” to avoid temptations and improve self-control in order to stick to the habits you need to accomplish your goals. To illustrate, an “if-then” statement might look like: “If I don’t have time to go to the gym today, then I will track my steps walked until I reach 10,000 for the day.”
Remember, habit formation does not work overnight, so allow yourself the space to create and nurture these habits. It’s important to put in the time and effort each and every day in order to make a lasting impact on your wellness journey.