Don’t give up now—expert tips to maintain better habits year-round

A woman holds an apple in one hand and a donut in the other, trying to make the decision to build better habits.

Many of your employees and clients likely made a promise to themselves this New Year to build better habits.

“I will do X,” or, “I will stop doing Y,” they told themselves. We all do it every year. Many of us implement new behaviors every January, but that’s not where the story ends.

A poll last year of 2,000 Americans found the average person breaks their New Year’s resolution just 32 days after making it. Similarly, another study determined 80% of people drop their New Year’s resolution by mid-February. Despite their best intentions, many people clearly have trouble sticking with their new behaviors until they become habits.

So, how long does it take to form a new habit?

For decades, a misinterpretation of a report on self-image  inadvertently popularized the belief that habit formation takes 21 days. Recently, researchers have conducted specific studies to determine how long habit formation actually takes. Their work has dispelled the myth that there is a set amount of time for habit formation. Rather, it revealed that different people require different amounts of time to form different habits.

In one study, habit formation ranged from 18 days to 254 days, with an average of 66 days. Based on this finding, a further study recommended health professionals advise patients that habit formation takes 10 weeks and gets progressively easier over time. The study said this framing could help people stay motivated to work on their new behavior for the two or three months many new habits take to form.

Ultimately, habit formation takes longer than we wish it did. What do we do about it?

It would be nice if we could snap our fingers and suddenly have a better sleep routine or a better diet. But we can’t. The good news is that forming a new habit isn’t impossible either. With the right support, anyone can do it.

Our LifeSpeak experts are here to help your people overcome the obstacles that prevent them from sticking with their new habits. They cover a wide range of topics related to building better habits including:

  • Sleeping better
  • Reducing screen time
  • Meeting fitness goals
  • Mastering nutrition
  • And abstaining from alcohol

Share their tips with your colleagues, clients and family members to help anyone struggling to maintain better habits this year.

Sleeping Better:

In her LifeSpeak video, Breathing exercises to help with sleep, Dr. Sophie Bostock says that our busy lifestyles can encourage our brains to rely on fight or flight responses powered by adrenaline and cortisol to keep our energy levels up. When our stress response is on all the time, we have trouble sinking into a deep, restorative sleep.

Bostock says the trick is to convince our brains that we are safe. One way we can do this is by controlling our breathing. Danger leads to short and fast breathing that prepares us to run away, but deep and slow breathing reassures our brain that we are ok. As a result, Bostock recommends adding a short breathing routine to the bedtime ritual, like “box breathing.”

Box breathing involves breathing slowly through the nose and into the belly. It’s done for four counts of four: breathing in for four counts, holding for four counts, breathing out for four counts and holding for four counts.

Bostock says just 5-10 minutes of box breathing before bed can contribute to a better night’s sleep.

Reducing Screen Time:

In his LifeSpeak video, I feel compelled to check my phone and social media all the time. What can I do?, speaker and founder of GamerQuitters Cam Adair says the first step for anyone trying to reduce screen time is to accept that they spend too much time on their phone—and that most people do.

Next, Adair says it’s helpful for each individual to examine that compulsion. Where does it come from? Why are you drawn to your screen? Is it that your brain wants stimulation? Are your trying to escape some stress in your life? Or maybe you’re trying to stay connected with your friends.

Adair says that by uncovering the emotional needs a person is trying to fulfill, they can start to find other, healthy behaviors besides looking at their phone all the time.

Achieving Fitness Goals

Many people start each New Year vowing to shed a few unwanted pounds. In her LifeSpeak video, Fitness myths: frequently asked questions, group fitness director Shelly McDonald says one common mistake people make is focusing on spot reducing, like doing sit ups, just to get rid of belly fat.

“Basically, there’s two layers there,” McDonald explains. “There’s the muscle and then there’s the fat. So when you do a lot of abdominal exercises, namely crunches – and this is a very common exercise that people do to try to flatten out their abs – your abs will get stronger, they will get tighter but only underneath all the fat.”

McDonald says full body programs not only tone and tighten the entire body, but help it burn fat more efficiently. She recommends incorporating exercise for every part of the body to maximize workouts and weight loss.

Mastering Nutrition

“Is it ok to eat before bed?”

In her LifeSpeak video, Nutrition Myths: frequently asked questions, registered dietician Toby Amidor says this is one of the most common questions she hears.

Her answer? It depends.

What did the person in question eat rest of the day? She says if they haven’t eaten since dinner at 5 or 6 and they’re hungry, then yes, maybe they do need a little snack before bed. However, if they’re eating out of boredom or another emotion, then that’s an indication they don’t need a snack.

Amidor says snacks are “mini meals and they should include nutrients perhaps you didn’t get throughout the day.”  She recommends a little yogurt topped with fruit as an example of a low-calorie snack that contains vitamins and nutrients we need. She cautions those who experience heartburn to avoid eating directly before going to bed but says that for everyone else a small snack of 150-200 calories at night can be acceptable.

Abstaining from Alcohol:

Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption is a common goal for many each year. To reduce alcohol consumption, it’s helpful to understand why we consume alcohol in the first place.

Perhaps we just enjoy having a few drinks with friends occasionally, but sometimes there’s more to it. Is it social pressure or a way to cope with stress and anxiety? For those struggling to abstain from alcohol, Addiction Medicine specialist Dr. Adi Jaffe has some good advice.

In his Ask the Expert Web Chat Understanding and Overcoming Addiction in all its Forms, Jaffe says it’s important to interrogate our own notions about having an alcohol problem. He says we might surprise ourselves when we uncover about our own erroneous beliefs or judgements.

“In reality, it only truly means one thing: that you struggle with alcohol as a way of coping with other life problems,” Jaffe says.

Once we accept this fact, facing our reality or sharing it with others isn’t nearly as difficult.

Want more support for your people?

This is just a snapshot of the expert-led education available on the LifeSpeak platform. If you’re already a LifeSpeak client with access to these volumes, you can direct your employees to the LifeSpeak platform to learn more about building better habits. All these learnings can be easily accessed through the search bar at the top of the page.

If you aren’t already a LifeSpeak client learn more about how the LifeSpeak platform can help your employees, customers, and their families by booking a demo today.

Looking for even more support? The entire LifeSpeak family of companies is ready to help your employees, clients and their families in everything from family caregiving to substance use physical fitness. Explore the entire LifeSpeak family here.

Katie Bowkett is responsible for driving successful results across the client base and building new business opportunities through greater advocacy and reference ability. Before joining the Company, Ms. Bowkett spent the first 15 years of her career with one of the largest corporate recruiters in Western Canada. She rose from account management to Vice President of Worldwide Sales, and eventually, Vice President of Global Client Experience. Ms. Bowkett also created and led the corporate initiative, which resulted in the company being listed in the top employers to work for by both Great Places to Work and BC Top Employers for five years prior to her departure.