4 Strategies for Building Healthy Habits – That Actually Work

October 27, 2017

Gretchin Rubin, in her LinkedIn Learning course, detailed four strategies for forming a new healthy habit.

While some of us are more routine-driven than others, science tells us our habits dictate at least 40 percent of our day, and up to 90 percent if we are particularly regimented.

That’s a lot. But think about it – the time you woke up, how you got to work, what you eat, what you do right after work and even most of what you do at work is likely based (at least partially) on your routine. So there’s a very simple solution to improving your life: forming better habits.

The problem? Healthy habits are hard to form. For example, most of us would love to exercise five days a week. But how many of us consistently do that?

The good news? Once a habit is formed, it’s hard to break. If you can form a healthy habit – like exercising five days a week – there’s a good chance it’ll stick.

Okay, so what are the best methods for building new habits? To find out, we consulted the LinkedIn Learning course of arguably the world’s leading researcher of habits – two-time New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin.

What are the best ways to form a new habit? Well, according to Rubin, they are:

1. Monitoring

Monitoring means setting a specific goal and then tracking it over time.

For example, say you want to leave work at 5:30 p.m. each day, at the latest. That’s a clear goal you can easily monitor. You should literally create a spreadsheet or track in some way what days you left work at 5:30 p.m.

“The strategy of monitoring is one that forces us to be specific about what we're expecting from ourselves and how we're going to work towards that goal,” Rubin said. “Also, by seeing how often we're following through, we're much more likely to start moving in the right direction.”

2.  Foundation

This is a strategy everyone should adopt. Because you are much more disciplined – and much more likely to form healthy habits – when you have a strong foundation.

What does having a strong foundation mean? Four things, according to Rubin:

  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Being active.
  • Eating right.
  • Physically decluttering your space.

Sounds simple, right? And yet neglecting any of these four things will lead to less self-command, which will make good habits that much harder to form, Rubin said.

“The strategy of foundation is there's certain things that we do, in our everyday lives, that give us more self-command, and self-command is something that we want all day,” she said. 

3. Scheduling

Scheduling, as the name implies, means literally scheduling time in your day to do something. If your goal is to learn more, for example, it means setting aside an hour each Friday afternoon to learn.

“To a crazy degree for most people, if something actually appears on their schedule, they are much more likely to do it,” Rubin said.

A key to making scheduling work? Force yourself to do nothing but the scheduled task in the time you scheduled for it, Rubin said. Out of sheer boredom, you will eventually start doing it.

4. Accountability

Accountability means asking someone in your life to keep you accountable when forming a new habit. For example, your boss could hold you accountable to spend that hour each week learning. Or your spouse could hold you accountable to spend four hours a week working on that side hustle of yours.

“For almost everyone, accountability is an enormously powerful strategy, and they're all around us,” Rubin said. “Attendance records help get us to school on time when we were little, deadlines help us get work done.”

One rule Rubin reinforced her course – if someone asks you to hold them accountable on a habit, provide that accountability. Yes, it’ll be uncomfortable at times, but the person will thank you in the long run (plus, it’s good karma, particularly if you ask someone else to hold you accountable).

The takeaway

These strategies sound straightforward. But Rubin has spent years researching this exact issue, and found these four tactics are the most effective for building new habits.

Particular strategies will work better for particular people (except foundations, that’s an across-the-board rule). Find out which one works best for you and, well, make it a habit.

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