Build Healthy Habits that Stick

How do we make healthy eating, exercise routines and other healthy activities effortless? Turn these activities into good habits that stick!


What’s a Habit?

A habit is a behaviour we do on autopilot. They are routines of behaviour that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously.

An example is when we come home from work every night and use our phone to watch videos or to surf the internet.

Why Bother with Habits?

Habits go hand-in-hand with goal setting. Think of habits as stepping stones towards your goals. Start by building small habits that can help you accomplish your goals then work towards bigger changes that contribute to personal development.

For instance, if your goal is to exercise more, make exercising a habit. How to develop an exercise habit? Start by having a habit of working out for 15 minutes every morning, then progress to a full thirty-minute exercise routine and so on.

For example, if you want to manage stress better, form the habit of making daily to-do lists to complete specific goals, such as having the habit of getting enough sleep.

The Basic Building Blocks

There are three parts to a habit:

  • Cue — the trigger, or reminder, that starts the habit. This could be a time, place, event, state of mind, or even a person.
  • Routine — the habit, or behaviour.
  • Reward — what we gain from the habit.

An example:

  • Cue: Every morning, you walk past the kettle in your kitchen.
  • Routine: You see the kettle, fill it up with water, and put it on.
  • Reward: You enjoy a steaming mug of tea in the morning while you read the papers.

You’ve repeated this habit so many times you hardly think about it. And that’s the key to making habits stick: Repetition.

Forming New Habits

Suppose weight loss is your goal and you want to develop healthy eating habits and exercise as part of your daily routine. Follow these 4 steps to form new habits!

Step 1: Identify the cue.

This should be something you do repeatedly, for example, waking up early every morning to exercise. The habit to build could be: “When I wake up every morning, I will exercise.”

You can also modify your cue to make things easier. For example, place your workout attire by your bed so that it’s the first thing you see when you wake up. Doing so will make it easier for you to achieve your personal goal of working out daily.

This eliminates the extra step, and possible obstacle, of walking to the cupboard and picking out what to wear. In the process, you could lose motivation to exercise.

Step 2: Start with a small habit.

Instead of jumping straight into a 15-minute routine, that might only be good for short-term gain, begin with a single wall squat. Yes, just one.

Repeat the one squat every morning for a month, until the habit of working out once you wake up becomes automatic. Slowly build up your daily routine by progressively adding more squats.

Step 3: Make the reward enjoyable.

The mood-boosting effects of exercise may be enough for some, but for those of us who need extra motivation to accomplish your goals, here are some ideas:

  • Text “Good morning” to your other half
  • Take a relaxing shower
  • Try a new restaurant
  • Sleep in on the weekend
  • Do something fun with a buddy, e.g. bowling, badminton

Step 4: Be consistent when you form new habits

Here's how to stick to a habit easier: pick a non-busy period to work on your habit, and try to consistently keep at it for at least one month.

Remember: routine is key! Try to repeat your habit at the same time every day, and choose a time that works for you.

For example, if you’re a night owl, schedule your workout in the evening instead of the morning to help the habit stick.

Step 5: Troubleshoot

If you miss a day or two, don’t say, “forget it!”. Instead, figure out the reasons why you missed out on the routine, then revise your plan to rebuild the habit.

Perhaps you find it difficult to crawl out of bed every morning, and you keep hitting the snooze button.

Adjust your plan — try exercising after you get home from work or during lunch instead. Keep experimenting with the timings until you find one that works best for you when building an exercise routine!

Contributed By: Health Promotion Board (HPB)

Build Healthy Habits that Stick by Health Promotion Board, 16 Jul 2020,

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