Creating Healthy Habits That Last

The key to long-lasting lifestyle changes in four steps

Changing your lifestyle can feel overwhelming, but healthy change doesn’t have to be complicated. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our daily habits and influenced sustainable lifestyle practices. A patient once told me, “ You created this spiderweb, which took a lot of effort and time. Now you have to go back and undo the web, and it will take effort and time to undo this.” If you don’t invest in yourself now, later, you will have no choice and will be dealing with a host of possible chronic diseases that can affect you.

Here’s what you need to know about making changes you want for yourself and your life — for good this time.

1) Focus on One Change at a Time

You may want to make multiple changes, but this approach can backfire because of how your brain works. It takes time to form a new healthy habit. To make sure you create a new healthy habit that will last for the long term, focus on one change at a time and continue to work on that one habit.

Will you work toward eating more vegetables, reducing sugar, drinking more water, or reducing carbohydrates? Start by picking one thing you want to focus on.

Although it may seem like a great idea to work on all of these healthy eating behaviors at once, trying to change in too many ways at once can be overwhelming and cause you to quit altogether.

2) Emphasize Small Changes and Make Your New Habit as Small as Possible

Even if you pick just one goal, you might go wrong by picking one too big. Try to pick a health goal that is small and achievable but will result in a positive change.

If you want to eat a healthier diet, you can do it without changing everything about your diet. Rather than making a broad goal to eat a more nutritious diet, try being specific and focused. For instance, if you are working toward cutting back on sugary drinks, could you try reducing your intake by one sugary drink per day instead of eliminating all sugary beverages?

And if you are looking to be more active this year, you shouldn’t go from no activity to hour-long workout sessions every day. Instead, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator. You can follow that with one workout per week. You can start with five minutes of activity and work up to 30 minutes. With your doctor’s approval, you can build your exercise regimen slowly.

3) Try Adding Something Rather Than Taking Something Away

Let’s stick with our sugary drink example above. Many people need help depriving themselves of something they enjoy, such as soda. So, if you want to drink less soda, how are you supposed to get past the mental block you experience when you think of achieving that goal?

Try adding something that will replace the soda you’ll stop drinking. For example, instead of saying, “I will drink less soda,” try saying, “I will replace my daily soda with sugar-free sparkling water.”

Adding something instead of taking it away can make it easier to stick with without feeling too deprived.

4) Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

Remember that it’s OK if things don’t go as planned. Hitting a setback does not mean you should give up. It simply means you need to try again. And when things don’t go as planned, don’t consider it a failure. Think of it as information you now have about what doesn’t work for you. The more information you have, the easier it is to find what does work for you.

Always check with your healthcare provider before significantly changing your diet or exercise routine.


Axon, S., Lent, T., & Njoku, A. (2023). Shifting sustainable lifestyle practices and behaviour during times of pandemic disruptive change: Implications for on-going socio-technical transitions. Energy Research & Social Science, 102, 103188.

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