Here we are a couple months into the new year. January is in the rear view—and we’re willing to bet your resolutions are as well. But not to worry! Any time of the year is a great time to start building healthy, supportive habits.(Psst… your dental floss called. It says it’s lonely in the back of your bathroom drawer.)
Habits make up almost half of the actions we take every day, including everything from reading the news to working out to choosing where to order lunch. And this is exactly what makes them so powerful: If we can build new habits — or break old ones — to better align with our goals, then we can take advantage of these auto-pilot activities to move us toward becoming the people we want to be.
At Sky Dental in NYC, we recommend Invisalign as a great way to straighten your teeth and find your best smile. But the process also offers an opportunity to develop a new healthy habit. Invisalign treatment requires you to wear your aligners 20+ hours each day and to change them weekly to gently move your smile in the right direction. It’s a goal that requires work, but with good habits it leads to fantastic results.
Here are eight tips to set yourself up for success and create habits that stick around. And because we know regular flossing might not be your habit Holy Grail, these tips will work for whatever you’re working toward.
1. Be specific about the habit you want to build
Well-intentioned as they may be, vague habit goals like “I want to exercise more” or “I want to eat out less” are hard to put into action. You’ll get much more from your efforts if you can state your desired habit in specific terms.
Try these swaps:
- I want to walk more. → I want to walk 10,000 steps a day.
- I want to meditate regularly. → I want to meditate for 20 minutes, at least five days a week.
- I want to eat out less. → I want to cook at home two days a week.
2. Get clear on your cues
Sending your good intentions out into the universe is great, but that habit isn’t going to manifest itself without you making space for it in your existing routine. Take a deep breath — this doesn’t require rearranging your whole calendar. Chances are, there’s a place in your daily schedule where you might be able to tack on something new.
For example, if you want to spend two hours a week learning Arabic, dedicate your subway ride to playing the Duolingo app, rather than mindlessly scrolling Instagram. Or if you’re ready to make flossing your teeth a year-round habit instead of a two-days-before-your-appointment rush, consider flossing while you wait for your morning coffee to brew.
3. Start with small actions
Meditating for 20 minutes sounds great — maybe you can feel your shoulders relax just thinking about it — but unless you’re already an experienced meditator, going from zero to 20 will be tough. And let’s face it, most of us don’t have a spare 20 minutes just waiting to be filled.
So start with one minute. If you hear a little voice in your head complaining that a one-minute meditation won’t do anything, kindly tell it to buzz off and give it a try. Starting small gives your new habit the proverbial foot in the door. As you begin to feel the positive effects of even the smallest version of your habit, you’ll naturally build up the willpower and motivation to give it more time and attention.
4. Remove your excuses
When you start a new habit, you want to make it as easy as possible to keep up the good work. A little bit of prep work can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, taking the weight off of your willpower and motivation.
Bring your exercise clothes with you to the office so you can go straight to the gym after work. Put the dental floss next to coffee maker and leave it there. (Talk about a conversation-starter!) Set yourself a reminder to open Duolingo when you arrive at the subway platform.
Automate your habits in whatever way you can. If you’re trying to cook at home more, sign up for a meal kit to be delivered weekly. If you want to stay on track with dental or medical appointments, ask if you can set up your next appointment before you even walk out of the office.
If you want to break a bad habit, simply follow this tip in reverse — make it as hard as possible to engage in the unwanted behavior. Delete the DoorDash app, or use your phone’s settings to block time-wasting apps at times you want to focus on something else.
5. Harness the power of temptation
What if you could find a way to treat yo’ self while working toward your habit? Scientists studied this very thing — they call it temptation bundling — and found that it improves follow-through in a big way.
Here’s how it works: Pair your goal with something you really look forward to or maybe even consider a guilty pleasure, and only let yourself enjoy that indulgence while engaging in your habit.
Maybe your goal is to fold your clean laundry within 24 hours of washing it, for example. So save that next episode of Love is Blind to watch while you fold your tees and match up your socks. Or queue up a page-turning bestseller to read while you pop in your at-home teeth whitening trays.
6. Keep track of your progress
Habit trackers are excellent tools for those of us who like to visualize our efforts. Once you see that long line of checkmarks, you want to do everything you can to keep it going!
If you already use a bullet journal or planner, that might be the best place to keep track of your habit. You could also print out a tracker to tape up on bathroom mirror or next to your Peloton bike. (Extra credit: Buy a pack of gold star stickers and go wild!)
But if your habit is something you don’t necessarily do at home, you may prefer a habit building app for your smartphone. iPhone users love the simple Done app or the classic Streaks app, which also integrates with the Apple Health app for automatic tracking. If you’re on Android, check out the Loop app.
7. Phone a friend
Whatever habit you’re trying to build, you don’t have to do it alone. Make a gym date or invite a friend over to taste-test your new home-cooked recipes. Join a running group or sign up for a group meditation workshop.
Take advantage of any built-in support, such as regular office visits for Invisialign patients or complementary trainer orientation at the gym.
8. Be kind to yourself
Building a new habit is hard work. And despite all the headlines promising it only takes 21 (or 30 or 66 or however many) days, the truth is that there is no magic number when it comes to habits. Each habit will differ based on what the activity is and the person doing it. So be patient with yourself, and seek extra support when you need it.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, also offers this simple-yet-powerful reframe: Instead of using “have to” language — such as “I have to go to the gym” — use “get to” language — “I get to take care of my body in ways that make me feel great.”
We can’t wait to see what new potential you’ll unlock next!