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5 Steps to creating a healthy habit

Posted in 1. Mental health resources @ Sep 14th 2017 - By Dr Cathy Wurburton,
5 Steps To Creating A Healthy Habit

If it's time for you to set up some new and improved habits in your life - here's how you can do it...

Are you a gunna (I'm gunna do it) or a doer? Or, like many of us, are you a doer at work and a gunna at home – great at setting and achieving work-related goals but somehow never quite getting to exercise or going to bed on time or calling your mum?

You recognize the need for change, you know that you want something different, you have good intentions and then it just doesn’t happen. Read on to learn the five key steps involved in creating a new healthy habit.

But first, consider these scenarios;

You place an IV catheter and then you tape it in place and connect it to a bung or IV line.


You get your toothbrush, you put toothpaste on it and brush your teeth.

Whether you are thinking about the catheter or tooth-brush, once you have done the first step, you almost always follow through with the others. A habit has been formed whereby initiating the first step puts a chain of events in process.

Your life is full of habits

As we go about our day to day life, a lot of what we do is habitual. We do it unthinkingly, on automatic pilot. Habits are fantastic – the associated neural pathways are well-travelled and speedy. You can get things done quickly and efficiently with minimal brain-power, allowing you to put your brain to good use in other areas.  One of the keys to a happy and fulfilling life is to have the right things on automatic pilot.

How can we develop good habits?

So – how do we put the right things on automatic pilot, having it happen without you really having to think about it?

Follow these simple steps to wire your positive change into your brain.

Step 1 – What and why do you want to change?

What is that you want to bring in to your life? Is it to do with self-care (maybe eating a healthy breakfast daily or getting out into nature each week) or is it more about the way that you think (maybe redirecting your thinking to reinforce that excellent is good enough and we don’t need perfection)?

And, what exactly are you wanting to achieve? What will this change bring to your life? How will it make you feel different? Clearly articulating this helps provide the motivation to follow through on your goal. 

Step 2 – Set yourself up for success

Success breeds success. In fostering success, consider the orientation and size of your change.

Firstly, orient your goal so that it is about what you will gain from the change rather than what you will lose. We are much more likely to follow through when we say, I am going to improve my health and fitness by exercising for 10 minutes each day than if we say I want to lose weight by exercising for 10 minutes each day.

And then, start with a small step, something that you really can achieve. Your feelings of success will help motivate you to continue.

Step 3 – When are you going to do it?

The brain likes consistency and it is very helpful in habit formation if a certain cue prompts a certain action each and every time. For example, we might have read the research on mindfulness and be wanting to start a daily mindfulness practice. Our cue may be that we have just got home from work. At this time, each and every work day, we would do our mindfulness practice.

Step 4 – How will you reward yourself?

Celebrating our successes makes us feel more positive about what we have achieved. The reward needs to be immediate rather than delayed…and we don’t want to do something that negates our new healthy habit. Rewarding ourselves with a chocolate bar after exercising for 10 minutes for example, would not be that helpful! Your reward may be as simple as allowing yourself a minute to revel in the positive feelings that come with doing what you set out to do or doing a little victory dance or sitting on the couch with a cup of tea or spending a few minutes researching your next holiday option.

Step 5 – Creating a better than nothing plan

Have you ever made a decision to start doing something, say exercising? You start off incredibly motivated and excited. You set yourself a goal of exercising every day and you do it, every day for the first week or two and you are feeling really good about yourself….until you have one of those super busy days. The cue or trigger for you to exercise comes up, and you tell yourself that you really can’t do it today and instead you pour yourself a glass of wine and turn on the TV. The next day, you feel a bit crappy about yourself and you start wondering whether there is any point given your job or your lifestyle or (insert excuse here) and so you give up on your new exercise regime. There is another way!

Create a better than nothing plan and give your brain the consistency it needs by always doing at least a part of your habit when the cue for your action occurs. Your better than nothing plan may be to do 20 star jumps. You always have time for 20 star jumps and your brain is happy because you have followed the cue with your action. The process of hard-wiring your habit continues.

Like to know more?

If you would you like some more information about creating healthy habits, why don’t you have a read of one of the books below?

  • Rubin (2015) Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Life (Broadway Books)
  • Carter (2015) The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less (Ballantine Books)

Or maybe, you would you like some help from a professional coach? I am very excited to let you know that Cheryl Fry has joined me at Make Headway. Cheryl is a veterinarian and a certified, professional coach based in Sydney. You can read more about her by visiting the Make Headway website - click here. We look forward to helping you to create the life you want to live.

About Cathy

Cathy is a coach and well-being consultant/educator with Make Headway.  Prior to this, she worked as a veterinarian, trainer and manager in private, university and corporate practices for 25 years.  Please visit her site at to make an enquiry about coaching or to find out more.


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