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Make It Stick: How to successfully add exercise and good nutrition into your life.

Key points

  • Pair new habits with old habits

  • Pair new habits with a reward

  • Find like-minded people

  • Change your environment

  • Change your mindset


When someone decides they want to get their health in order, it’s not unusual for them to make big sweeping changes. They take on a completely new diet and suddenly start exercising 5 days a week. Some people wipe the slate completely clean and are hugely successful (especially if they have outside support). But for most people making changes on their own, this tactic is overwhelming. It's not long before old habits creep in and eventually reign supreme once more. Here’s my advice: Find a couple small things you can change, and stick with those changes until they become solid habits. The easier you can make a new habit, the easier it will be to keep it going. Here are some ideas on how to create new habits that will get you toward your goal.

First, pair a new habit with an old one. Let’s say you want to add more fruit to your diet but can’t seem to remember to do it on a daily basis. Find one consistent thing you already do daily, and add eating fruit to that daily ritual. For example, if you have coffee every morning for breakfast, say (out loud or write it down), “When I sit down at the kitchen table to drink my morning coffee, I will eat a piece of fruit.” Or let’s say you want to remember to stretch your hip flexors, and you binge watch Netflix at 8:30 pm every night. Say out loud, “When I turn on my Netflix show at 8:30 pm, I will do my hip flexor stretches.” The more specific you can be, the more likely you will follow through. It’s not “I’ll eat a piece of fruit at lunch” or “I’ll work out at the end of the day”. It’s “When I put my sandwich on my plate at lunch, I will grab a piece of fruit and put it on the plate as well.” Or “When I hang up on my conference call at 4:45 pm, I will put on my exercise clothes and ride my bike.” Still having problems following through? Post-it notes and alarms are your best friend.

Second, try tying your new habit in with a reward. I’ll make this example short and sweet: “When I finish writing this blog post about habits, I can go watch ‘The Great British Baking Show’.” You get the idea, right? (Pro-tip #1: If your goal is healthier eating, please for the sake of everything good and holy, don’t pair eating vegetables with getting a bigger portion of dessert. Pro-tip #2: If your goal is healthier eating, reconsider watching ‘The Great British Baking Show.’)

Third, find like-minded people. Have you ever noticed at a party that you tend to do what others around you are doing? For instance, I rarely drink at home. I know this may sound odd, but I don’t care one way or the other about alcohol; I’d rather eat chocolate. Yet for some reason, when I go to a social gathering where others are having a drink, I always join in. To be clear, this isn’t a bad habit -- I’m not exactly doing a keg stand. But this is an example of how social situations influence behaviour. If you find yourself feeling alone in your healthy lifestyle endeavors, find someone who can help influence you to ‘keep on keeping on’ with your healthy habits.

Fourth, change your environment. More on this here:

Fifth, change your mindset. More on this here:

It’s not unusual for there to be a lag time between when a new habit is formed and when the results begin to show. When I was finally released to start exercising following the c-section birth of my second child, I couldn’t wait to get moving. I hadn’t exercised in over 2 months, I had an infant, a two-year old, and had just moved to a new city. But I’m a fitness professional, I know what I need to do to lose weight, and none of these things were going to get in my way. I popped DVD’s into the player and worked out for 25 min daily. Okay, okay: They were 25 min workouts, but with constant interruptions from the preschooler and infant, they were more in the 45 min to 1 hour category. Despite the utter frustration of trying to complete the constantly interrupted workouts, I knew I was on my way to being fit and back to pre-pregnancy weight. After the first week, I stepped on the scale. Not a pound loss. No biggie, it had just been a week. I kept at it. The second week in: nada. I thought it was strange, but I knew what way was up, so I kept going. Third week: nothing. Really? Fourth week: nothing. Argh. Fifth week: nothing. Sooooo frustrating! What gives?!?

Maybe this isn’t your exact story, but I have no doubt something similar has happened at some point in your life. You made a change, you kept it up for a few weeks, but the fruits of your labor just weren’t showing. Let’s be honest, starting a new habit can be inspiring and exciting, and then it quickly becomes a slog. At that point, we often throw in the towel. But I’m here to say, “Stick with it!” There’s no magic timeline for making a habit stick--21 days, 3 months, 1 year. What matters is you keep getting repetitions under your belt. I promise you, you are laying the groundwork for great things to come. It only takes a small, consistent change to add up to big things later. By the end of my sixth week of exercise: Boom! Five pounds gone. Within the year, the pregnancy weight had melted away.

*For more detailed information on forming lasting habits, I highly recommend James Clear’s Atomic Habits. My last 3 posts on habits have been inspired by his work.

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