5 Keys to Building Healthy Habits (To Improve Your Life)

Male hiker with arms open wide while looking at vista in Bryce Canyon National Park

Building healthy habits can be challenging. At the beginning of each new year, there comes that time when many excitedly set “new year resolutions.” With high hopes and the purest of intentions, there is an intense sense of commitment to the new version of yourself that will be born in the new year ahead. Unfortunately, many of these resolutions don’t stick.

The road to establishing new habits and routines takes time and effort. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help you make the goals you set easier to stick with long term.

We shifted our lifestyle and adopted a healthy habit of spending time outside most days and now hike over 500 miles a year.

Our mission is to help others experience the wellness benefits of exploring natural spaces, spending more time outside, and bringing a mindful approach to life, travel, and time in nature.

You might want to spend more time outside in nature, travel more, or practice mindfulness more regularly, but feel that you just don’t know where to start or feel you don’t have the time. Or maybe just don’t know how to shift away from other habits (like screen time).

The following 5 keys will help you start building healthy habits that align with your values and the version of yourself you wish to be:

A hiking couple at Hope Lake in Telluride Colorado while RVing in the U.S.

Strategies For Building Healthy Habits That Last

1. Consider what your days actually look like

The first step to managing your time and figuring out when you could build new habits or activities into your already busy days is to get an accurate picture of what your days really look like.

At the end of the day, it might feel like you had no free time at all. That you went from work and meeting to meeting, to home and dinner and responsibilities and didn’t have a moment to step outside or catch your breath. This very well might be the case! It is also possible that there were some free moments in there that could be used differently and in a way that would better support your goals.

Example Exercise: Build self-awareness through reflection

  • Start by finding a space to jot down what you do throughout the day. Start when you wake up and track as much as you can until you go to bed. Make sure as much as you can that all your time is accounted for.
  • You might do this for one day or throughout a week to get a deeper understanding of how your time is spent.

This exercise can help fight confirmation bias that can leave the mind only seeing information that supports your previously held beliefs.

For example, if you believe you have no free time in the day, you might be more likely to recall all your busy moments and neglect to see the free time that came up in your day. By taking the time to intentionally write things down throughout the day you can fight the confirmation bias and bring more awareness to the reality of what your days look like.

2. Get specific. What can wait, be consolidated, or delegated?

If you took the time to jot down what your day-to-day looks like that list will come in handy here. Take a look at all that you do each day. What does it look like? Think about how you might prioritize those activities if you had to rank them.

For example, what activities are non-negotiables (like work, for example)? What on the list might be able to be de-prioritized, delegated, or consolidated in order to free up some time? This is key when thinking about time management for building new healthy habits.

For example, if your list starts something like:

  • Wake up
  • Scroll on social media for 25 minutes

You might ask yourself: Is social media a non-negotiable or something that can potentially be shifted in order to make more time for other things that move you closer to your goals?

If you have really busy days and a lot of things that are important for you to make top priorities, you might also consider if there are ways to consolidate. For example, if your priorities include making time to connect with friends, spending time learning, and spending more time walking outside and you feel like you don’t know how to fit it all in… you might consider how to combine some of those activities.

For example:

  • You might make a phone call to a friend during your commute home after work
  • Perhaps you listen to your podcast during your evening walks

Perhaps after reflecting on your days there are clear ways to get more time back in your day. Maybe, it might take a bit more creativity to figure out how to make time for the new habits you want to develop.

Either way, you have the power to make changes and set up your days in a way that supports your goals. Let your values guide you and use the self-awareness you build as a foundation.

3. Reflect on potential barriers. What are the main obstacles that prevent you from committing to new habits?

Once you have in mind how you might be able to manage your time to be able to build the new habits you want to form (such as spending more time outside or getting out for more hikes each year), it’s time to be proactive.

When trying to build new habits or routines, the actions are not automatic and there are likely to be obstacles. Acknowledging what those might look like can help you to set up a plan and problem-solve in advance. This also can help boost your confidence in what to do if obstacles arise and support your ability to adapt and find other ways to be successful.

Here are some examples of what obstacles might look like:

  • The weather can prevent you from getting outside
  • Your phone becomes a distraction that leads to wasted time
  • Low energy makes it difficult to get outside and get moving
  • Large work projects have you working late and throw your schedule off

Be patient with yourself if obstacles do arise and become challenging. The process of developing new habits and routines is not linear and does not require perfection. Each day is simply a learning opportunity and a chance to build up consistency in your actions.

4. Know where to put your energy. What is within your control?

Now that you have an idea of some of the obstacles that could come up and make it harder to commit to your new habit goal, you can take it one step further and consider what is within your control.

As humans with complex and busy lives, we have limited energy resources each day. You want to use that energy wisely. In part, that means spending it focusing on things that are within your control.

If the weather is poor and you can’t get outside as you hoped, that is outside of your control. You could focus on indoor exercises to build strength for hiking, but you can’t do anything to change the weather. And that is okay!

On the other hand, if there are things that are within your control you can do your best to create a plan to limit the impact of those obstacles.

For example:

  • If your phone tends to become a distraction: You might set an alarm reminder to put it away at a certain time or set it to do not disturb at the time you set to get outside for a walk.
  • If large work projects have you working long hours: You might shift your goals a bit and opt for short breaks outside to get some fresh air, even if you will not be able to get out for the hikes you had planned after work for the time being.

5. Understand your values. Who do you want to be and why?

Take a moment to reflect. How do you envision your life would look if you established the new habit you are striving for?

For example, if you want to be someone who spends time outdoors regularly… what do you envision your days would look like? If you become that version of yourself, what would you do more of? Less of? Consider how can you start to build more of those actions into your days to better align with your values and goals.

To take it a step further, you might consider how this version of yourself further aligns with your values. For example, spending more time exercising outside would be a goal you might be more motivated to stick to if you are clear about how much you value your health and the role that plays in your well-being long term.

Values are a major force in what drives behavior and tying the version of yourself you want to be and the actions it takes to get there to those values can better help you stay consistent long-term, even in the face of challenges or adversity.

Goal setting for building healthy habits

When setting any goal, it is helpful to start small, be really specific, and build from there.

If you want to be someone who spends more time outside, what would be a realistic place to start? Setting a goal to get out for an afternoon walk for at least 15 minutes at least 3 times a week might feel more realistic and easier to commit to than a vague goal of “spending more time outside.” For a deeper dive into science-backed goal-setting strategies, check out our article on effective goal-setting!

Begin with something realistic that you can achieve. Make the goal more challenging as you progress and move closer to that ultimate version of yourself you envision. Celebrate your successes along the way and use that as motivation to keep going.

You may not feel motivated at all times and that is okay. You can still rely on the commitment you have to build these new habits. Using an accountability partner can also be helpful to hold you to the action steps required to reach your goal.

Building Healthy Habits Overall

Progress is progress, no matter how small, and there is no requirement for perfection. 5 minutes outside in nature a day is better than 0, as is 1 hike every month versus none.

Focus on the process rather than the outcome. In time, you will be well on your way to building new habits in a way that feels more automatic and allows you to do things with more intentionality and presence. Routines that fit seamlessly into your lifestyle and support the version of yourself you wish to be.

What healthy habits are you looking to build? We would love to hear about how it’s going and how we can support you!

A female hiker at Great Sand Dunes National Park on her quest to build a new habit of getting outside more each day and hiking more than 500 miles a year.

If you are looking to reap the benefits of spending more time in nature and utilizing mindfulness to support your well-being, you might be interested in the following:

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