Have you been wondering how to build healthy habits in 2021? You’re not alone. We all want to be the best version of ourselves, and we know that means taking care of our bodies, but finding time for self-care can feel impossible at times.
A lot is going on this year – from politics to climate change and everything in between – and it can seem like there isn’t enough time or energy left over for what matters most: yourself. But don’t worry!
We’re here with tips for building healthy habits in 2021, so you can make sure your body is taken care of while the world deals with what life throws its way.
A lot of us have the goal of being healthier. We want to be able to run, or do yoga, or eat more vegetables. But it’s hard!
It seems like we’re always running out of time and energy, which is why we’ve put together this blog post on how you can build healthy habits that stick with you for life–no matter how busy your day gets.
What are some of your favourite healthy habits? Do you eat breakfast every day? Do you go for walks after dinner? Maybe you make sure to drink eight glasses of water per day or get seven hours of sleep each night.
You’ve got a great job, awesome friends, and an active social life that has you playing sports on the weekends. But there’s one area of your life where things are getting worse: the number on the scale is going up as fast as your bank account balance is going down!
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, and it can be hard to know what to do when we feel like we’re stuck in a weight-loss rut.
There are three main things that you need to do to build healthy habits. First, you want to start with a goal, set an achievable timeline and focus on the process.
If you’re trying to eat more vegetables, for example, your goal could be “to eat one serving of veggies at each meal.” On the other hand, your timeline might be two weeks – so every night this week before dinner, try adding a side dish or salad.
And during those two weeks, think about what made it hard and what made it easier so you can learn from your experience and make adjustments next time around.
There are plenty more great habits out there! If these are already part of your life, then congratulations—you’re on the right track and set up for success. But if not, don’t worry; this blog post can help with that too. It’s never too late (or early) to start building healthier habits into your daily routine!
Luckily for you, this blog post will give you some helpful tips on building healthy habits!
What is a Health Goal?
Your health is one area of your life that it is important to set goals, as these goals outline your ambitions for your well-being.
By making health goals and taking steps to reach them, you’re able to obtain a better balance of not only your diet and exercise but also in the subcategories of the health arena, including weight loss, eating whole foods, avoiding being sedentary, taking proper breaks from working, and having the self-awareness to realize when you’ve adopted a bad habit that could be detrimental in the long run.
It’s important to realize that your health and well-being are the product of a combination of your everyday habits and not simply one aspect of it.
All of your lifestyle choices become interlinked, so to improve one facet of your health, you have to step back to look at the big picture and your life balance.
Why do we suck At Building Healthy Habits?
“I know what I’m supposed to do. I can’t get myself to do it!” Welcome to the club – we all know what we need to do, but we can’t get ourselves to make the important changes.
We know how to get in shape: move more and eat less!
We know how to exercise: get your heart rate up, do some push-ups, get stronger.
We know how to eat healthy: more vegetables and less sugar.
And yet, we can’t get ourselves to stick with ANY of these things for longer than a few weeks.
Simple. Building new healthy habits is tough. Our lizard brains crave instant gratification, we don’t fully understand how habits are built, life gets busy, and our default behaviour is often as unhealthy as easy.
As a result, we don’t put the right systems in place to make changes stick.
We also rely way too much on willpower and motivation.
We tend to bite off more than we can chew, go too fast too soon, and then get overwhelmed too quickly.
Does this sound familiar?
- I’m going to eat 100% Paleo/Keto AND
- I’m going to run 5 miles a day AND
- I’m going to work out in a gym five times a week.
If you’re somebody that eats a typically poor diet, never runs, and hasn’t set foot in a gym since God knows when changing all of these at once is almost a surefire way to succeed at precisely NONE of them.
We’re conditioned these days to expect and receive instant gratification. If we want food, we can get it from a drive-through, stick a frozen meal in a microwave, or sit down at a restaurant that’s open 24 hours.
If we want a game, we can download it to our computers/phones/PS5s within a matter of seconds. If we want to watch a TV show, it’s a few clicks away.
We expect getting in shape to go the same way.
And this is why we suck at building healthy habits that stick.
We tell ourselves, “Hey, I’ve been dedicated for a whole two weeks, why don’t I look like Ryan Reynolds yet?”, not remembering that it took us decades of unhealthy living to get where we are, which means it’s going to take more than a few weeks to reverse the trend.
And then we missed a workout because life was busy or our kid got sick. And we get disheartened that exercise or giving up candy is not nearly as fun as Netflix and video games and Peanut M&M’s.
This is where everybody gives up:
- They try to change too many habits too soon
- They get impatient the results don’t come more quickly
- They slip up when life gets busy
- And they go back to square one
SMART Goal Setting
To set your own SMART goal, set aside about 30 minutes to define your intentions.
Taking some time to recognize your objectives and use the SMART criteria will help you put more detail and direction into setting your health and lifestyle goals.
In addition, putting your SMART goal in writing may help you remember the details.
Being specific helps to incorporate the method into the goal, not just the outcome.
Create your goal as an instruction whereby you tell yourself what to do. For example, try creating a statement for your goal, such as “I want to increase my weekly physical activity by walking for 30 minutes after dinner four times per week.”
Start by stating the objective you wish to meet as specifically as possible. For example, rather than saying, “I want to get in shape,” set a specific activity-related goal (such as walking for 30 minutes after dinner) to help define the pathway more clearly.
Approach goals tend to be more effective than avoidance goals. Try to set a goal for an action that you want to take rather than one you want to avoid.
Keep in mind that “performance” goals may be less effective than “mastery” goals. A performance goal is one where you try to achieve a specific outcome (“I want to lose 20 pounds”).
A mastery goal is one in which you try to learn a new skill or build upon a pre-existing ability (“I will walk every night for 30 minutes after dinner”).
Researchers have found that when challenges arise as part of a mastery goal, they are often perceived as a natural part of the goal-achievement process. They encourage problem-solving and active engagement in the process.
For example, if your goal is to walk every night after dinner and work tasks have prevented you from meeting that goal, you might change your walking time to lunchtime to meet your goal.
Often, not reaching a performance goal can be interpreted as a failure of one’s abilities because it involves judgment.
Even if you take specific steps to change lifestyle behaviours, you still may not reach a goal of losing 20 pounds, leading to feelings of defeat and frustration.
Suppose you have a weight loss goal in mind. In that case, it may be more effective to break it into smaller mastery-based goals, such as making small dietary changes or increasing physical activity in specific and measurable ways.
Adding quantifiable or measurable criteria to your goal will allow you to measure progress as you work towards achieving your goal.
Counting off the numbers as you progress will feel good, and measuring can help keep you from cheating. For example, the goal of exercising four times per week can be tracked on a calendar.
Consider creative methods of tracking your progress. For example, if you want to reduce stress, you might set a goal to take short 10-minute meditation breaks twice each day. Then, keep a log and record your meditation sessions and your stress level each day to track your progress.
Measuring results can help you adjust your goals as you work towards meeting your objectives.
Using the goal of stress reduction as an example, measurement and tracking allow you to watch for trends, such as situations that cause you more stress, to avoid them or respond differently in the future.
Break large goals into smaller goals and spell out the process required to achieve your objectives.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by selecting unattainable goals. For example, setting a goal to lose 20 pounds in two weeks is difficult to do and unhealthy to achieve. Instead, goals should be ambitious but not impossible.
Choose a goal that you are confident you can reach but challenge you to follow through with smaller, more attainable actions required to achieve it.
Make sure that the process is also realistic to achieve all of the individual steps you need. If you don’t have time, supplies, or the right location, make adjustments to your methods and goals.
Each step of attaining the goal should make sense to you and have some level of personal importance or relevance.
If you want to increase your physical activity, for example, select a type of exercise you enjoy. Zumba, jogging, cycling, and swimming are all effective forms of exercise, but not everyone considers each of these enjoyable. Pick the method that is right for you.
Goals should be inspiring enough that it motivates you to succeed. If you are not determined to meet your goal, obstacles will be very difficult to overcome.
If you don’t care about the goal, you are unlikely to work on it. For example, if your goal is to switch to a vegan diet, but you don’t actually enjoy vegan foods, then you are far less likely to stick to it.
If your doctor says, “lose weight,” but this statement does not inspire you, find another goal you care about pursuing.
For example, it might be much more inspiring to you to say, “I want to have more energy to play with my kids” or “I want to fit back into my college football jersey” to feel inspired to create smaller, process-based goals.
Your goal should be meaningful to you and set by you—not set by someone else.
When will you achieve your goal? Again, it would be best to choose a real-time but not too far off into the future.
Saying “I will get fit this year” sounds good, but saying “I will walk after dinner for 30 minutes four times per week for ten weeks” provides a more reasonable schedule and gives you a foreseeable finish line.
Once you reach the 10-week endpoint, evaluate your process and set a new goal based on your progress and interests.
Health Goals to Achieve in 2021
1. Be Selective of Your Rewards
If you run three miles one day and want to reward yourself for making such great progress, don’t turn to a brownie sundae to do this job.
Don’t choose rewards that counteract the success that you just gained. Rather, tell yourself you can’t catch up on the latest episode of your favourite show until you complete your run for the day.
Or find another motivating factor that will allow you to feel rewarded without undoing your hard efforts.
2. Unplug Yourself
Putting away your phone or laptop isn’t just good for your mental health; it’s good for your physical health as well.
Sure, you will develop deeper relationships with actual people if you interact with them in real life, but aside from that, when you’re on your phone or laptop, you’re more than likely sitting or being sedentary in some way.
Do not spend a significant amount of time using electronics each day.
3. Learn Your History
Find out what diseases run in your family so you can be aware of what you may be at a higher risk of developing in the future.
This way, you can either take specific steps to reduce your risk, or you can begin getting screenings earlier than you normally would.
4. Do a Self-Check Mid-Meal
Often, we have a habit of finishing everything on our plate, even if we’re full, possibly because there is a sense of guilt associated with wasting food after you’ve prepared it. However, research shows that people tend to eat 92% of whatever they put on their plates.
But if you’re satisfied after eating just 50%, that’s a great opportunity to wrap up the rest and have a meal waiting for you for another time.
Practice portion control and mindful eating by paying attention to your internal satisfaction signals instead of waiting for an external cue to stop eating, such as your plate being clean.
5. Age Gracefully
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that age is just a number, but if you’re starting to notice some physical signs of aging (such as wrinkles, age spots, etc.), it can be a tough pill to swallow that your youth is behind you.
Keep in mind that there are some great things about getting older. For example, people over 40 often report being happier, less stressed, and more confident than they were 20 years ago.
There are many reasons to embrace your age, and in doing so, you will demonstrate to others that your life experience is a strength rather than something to be ashamed of.
6. Increase Your Physical Strength
Depending on your current strength level, you will have to make this goal more specific, but most of us could use some more lean muscle on our bodies.
When you have strong muscles, you reduce your risk of injury and make it easier to maintain healthy body weight.
Keep track of how much weight you can lift as you’re trying to increase your strength so you can watch your progress.
7. Reduce Your Risk of Disease
Make sure to attend all preventative care appointments that apply to you.
Aside from your annual checkup with your primary care physician, get a dental cleaning every six months, get all of the routine tests and exams for your age, and get vaccinations to boost your immune system. Stay one step ahead of your health.
8. Stop Eating Out
I know it’s easy (and sometimes the fastest option) to grab lunch at a drive-through in the middle of the day or pick up dinner on the way home from work. But, not only does this drain your bank account, it can seriously impact your health.
The amount of sodium, calories, and fat in restaurant meals is…usually a mystery. Yes, you can often find some information online, but each restaurant’s servings may vary, and the nutrition facts that the restaurants give are often an estimate.
Nevertheless, you can assume that anything you eat from a restaurant has more sodium, fat, and calories than something that you could make for yourself at home. Which leads us to…
9. Plan and Prep Your Meals
Sundays are a great day to plan and prep your meals for the week. First, plan out your meals, and then go to the store to buy what you need (and only what you need) to prep them.
Not only will this save you time during the week, but it also gives you the ability to have full control over what goes into your body.
Prepping your meals ahead of time will ensure that you eat a balanced diet and get your body’s nutrients.
10. Practice Yoga
Yoga is great for your health because it promotes relaxation and helps you develop a mind/body connection.
Practising yoga also helps increase your strength and flexibility and helps you maintain a healthy metabolism. Finally, focusing on your breathing can help improve your respiration, energy, and vitality.
11. Walk Everywhere Within a Mile
If you’re headed out to run an errand, and it’s less than a mile away, leave your car at home and walk there (unless you’re planning on making a big grocery trip or will otherwise be returning home with a carload of things).
The more walking you can incorporate into your day, the better your health will be, as it can help you lose weight, get some fresh air, reduce your risk of developing several diseases, and improve your mood.
If your neighbourhood isn’t walkable, walk from store to store in a shopping centre if you have to make several stops.
While you may be tempted to drive from one end of the shopping centre to the other, it’s healthier to choose to get some extra steps into your day.
12. Educate Yourself
It would be ideal if you have the time and the funds to hire a dietitian and a personal trainer, but many of us don’t.
If this is the case, take the time to do some self-education to gain a basic level of knowledge behind the biological processes that occur to help you meet your goals. Some things to research could be:
- The importance of getting a good night’s sleep
- The connection between your diet, physical activity, and weight loss
- How your diet impacts your metabolism (and how your metabolism works)
- The principles of healthy eating
- The proper form of exercise and recommended levels of physical activity
13. Maintain a Positive Mindset
Your mental health is certainly a big part of your overall health.
You’re continually faced with challenges and temporary setbacks in life–these are inevitable–but having a positive attitude will keep you motivated to stick with all of your other health goals.
If you can learn how to cope with life’s challenges and move forward with a positive attitude, you will move forward more easily with life after experiencing hardship.
You can even learn to see challenges as opportunities to grow. For example, a large part of your ability to stay healthy comes from dealing with and managing stress.
I hope you find some of these health goals to be habits you want to incorporate into your life.
But keep in mind, it’s often overlooked just how closely related your goals may often be. Most improvements that you make in one area of your health will positively impact another area.
For example, if you’re overweight and start training for a 10k, the extra calories you’re burning through the increased activity will help you lose weight. In addition, improving your diet by focusing on eating plant-based foods can also help reduce your cholesterol levels.
Everything has a domino effect. So if one goal seems a little far-fetched, change your focus to other related goals that will have a positive impact on your long-term challenge.
This will help your bigger goals become more of a product of your habits rather than something that is completely out of reach.
Choose some of these health goals to start in 2021 (use some of the nutrition SMART goals in this post as reference), and if you come back and look at this list in six months, you may find that you’re meeting more goals than you originally thought.