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Creating healthy habits

6-minute read

Key facts

  • A habit is something you do without needing too much effort to do or think about.
  • Habits can be good or bad.
  • Habits form through repetition — doing them over and over again
  • There are things you can do to help form new, healthy habits and break bad habits.

What is a habit?

A habit is something that is routine to you and that you repeat, often without knowing it or needing effort. Some habits are good, some are bad.

Creating healthy habits and giving up bad habits is good for your mental health and wellbeing.

Good habits include:

How can I create good habits?

Making new habits can be a challenge. It's especially hard to change everything all at once. It's easier to set small, realistic, achievable goals. This helps create a sense of confidence and encourage further habit goals that you can build upon. For example, if you want to form good exercise habits, start by taking short walks, most days of the week. Once you have formed your habit, you can work up to more intense activity, or walking more frequently.

It might take you several months to create a new habit. To form a habit, repetition is key. You must include the activity in your regular routine. It can help if the habit is something you truly want, and something that aligns with your values.

It is important to make time for the habit you want to form. You can try to keep track of your goals by:

  • keeping a diary, in a notebook or digitally
  • using a wall planner
  • being accountable to a friend or family member

Many habits are triggered by events. For example, washing your hands is triggered by going to the toilet. When forming a habit, try to set triggers for it as part of your existing routine. These could include:

  • a particular time of day
  • a place, such as parkrun, swimming or the gym
  • an event such as waking up or eating lunch

It may help to set triggers that are also associated with something you enjoy. This can help you to form your habit.

You can also set reminders to help you maintain good habits. If you use an online diary, set automatic reminders on your phone or computer. There are also apps available that help with goal setting and new habits.

Let your family and friends know about your goals and the habit you want to form. They can provide support and encouragement, which can help to keep you motivated.

Tools to help create a healthy habit

Here's a way to help yourself create a healthy habit:

  1. Decide on your goal.
  2. Choose a simple action you can take every day.
  3. Plan when and where you will take your action — choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week.
  4. Every time you encounter that time and place, take the action.
  5. Congratulate yourself when you find yourself doing the action.

Forming a habit gets easier with time. It can also help to:

  • visualise your goal
  • practice positive self-talk — tell yourself that you are capable
  • share your goal with those around you — their encouragement can be helpful
  • praise yourself when you practice your habit
  • be patient if you don't form a habit straight away

Use the 80/20 rule. For example, remind yourself that it is better to eat well 80% of the time and indulge 20%, rather than the other way around.

Setting yourself unrealistic goals such as 'I will go to bed before 11pm' makes it hard to get back on track when you miss a day.

Daily actions to improve your mental health

Research from MindSpot has shown that regularly performing five simple daily actions can improve your mental health.

How can I avoid bad habits?

You might want to break a bad habit, like:

If you want to break a habit, it is important to first understand it. Think about the habit you are trying to break and if anything triggers it, such as:

  • a place
  • a time

This way, you can avoid triggering the habit. This can help you break it.

For example, if you are trying to eat less junk food, think about when and where you eat it. If you mostly eat junk food at work, try to avoid vending machines at your work so that you don't buy junk food.

It is also a good idea to replace the bad habit with a good one. For example, if you can't avoid a vending machine, buy something healthy instead.

When breaking habits, focus on one at a time. It is also normal for your habit to not break straight away. Be patient and kind to yourself. This will help you pick up where you left off. Change takes time, compassion and consistency.

Resources and support

If you would like support in forming healthy habits, you can talk to your doctor or another trusted health professional. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) have developed the Healthy Habits app to allow you and your GP to set your personal health goals, and track your progress.

You can also visit:

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2023

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