How to develop sustainable healthy habits

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Head Coach and Founder
Research shows that 82% of the Dutch consciously try to make healthy food choices every day. For only 1% these choices are a habit. Compared to conscious behavior, habits are more powerful, sustainable and more effective in terms of health outcomes. They are powerful because they are effortless. How to develop healthy habits in only three steps: 

Step 1: Describe

What are you going to do, when and how? And how does your new habit relate to your life values? Describe your new habit SMART, process-oriented,approach-oriented and value related. This increase your success rate.


Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. What exactly are you going to do, how can you measure if you did it, is the behavior achievable and realistic for you, and when exactly are you doing to do it?

Good example: Starting this Monday I am taking one CrossFitclass at my box every Monday and Wednesday at 9AM, for one month.

Bad example: Starting Monday I am doing CrossFit.

Process- oriented

A process orientated habit focusses on your actions, regardless of the outcome. Outcome-orientated habits on the other hand reflect a one-time situation or event. You eithermake it or you don’t. Outcome orientation is associated with feelings of stress, negative emotions and punishing thoughts, whereas process orientation is associated with positive feelings and thoughts.

Good example: Starting tomorrow morning I am going to practice meditation for ten minutes every morning at 6AM, regardless of whether I manage to clear my head.

Bad example: Starting tomorrow morning I have to clear my head by meditating every morning at 6AM for ten minutes.

Approach oriented

An approach-oriented habit focusses on what you are going to do, instead of on what you want to avoid.

Good example: Starting tonight I am going to cook 250 grams of veggies for dinner every day.

Bad example: Starting tonight I am never eating chocolate again.

Value- related

Relating the desired new habit to your life values makes the new habit part of a bigger and meaningful concept of your life.

For example: I value taking good care of my body and mind. Meditation can help me achieve that. That is why I am going to... 

Step 2: Identify

Much of our behavior is automatic and unconscious. We are not aware of it, we do not consciously control it, and we do not plan it. You can use the power of your current habits, to develop a new habit. Get aware of your current unconscious behavior b yidentifying one or more of the following three types: 

-       Automatically activated goal directed behavior: If you make the same choice repeatedly for a particular goal, an automatic association is created.

For example: Every time you walk the dog, you buy a coffee.

 -       Behavioral mimicry: This is the unconsciously copying of the behavior of others.

For example: You always say yes when someone offers you cake on a birthday party, without thinking about it.

-       Body feedback: Your environment influences your body position and emotions unnoticeable.

For example, you feel hungry and your stomach growls when you smell fresh baked bread or see something tasty, regardless of your actual need for food. 

Step 3: Introduce

Now your can start to introduce your new habit to your current behavioral pattern, by clustering, triggering and redesigning:


After getting insight into your current habits, you can cluster the new habit your current behavioral pattern.

For example: Every time you walk the dog, you buy a coffee + you also have a glass of water (if drinking more water is your desired habit). Or, every time you say yes to cake at a birthday party, you stand up and walk around for one minute (if exercising more and eating less sugar is your desired habit).

As you can see, you do not have to change your current habit of not eating cake yet. Introducing your new habit is given priority first.

You can develop your own habit clusters. Doing the exercises of your physiotherapist while brushing your teeth. Booking your CrossFit class when you’re on the toilet.


You can also use a trigger to introduce a new habit. One way is to use bio-feedback. This is a mind-body technique that involves using visual or auditory feedback to recognize physical signs and symptoms. The goal is to make subtle changes to the body that result in a desired effect. Over time, these changes can endure without the continued use of an instrument. 

For example: Every time your smart phone indicates that your heart rate goes up during work, you do a 2-minute breathing exercise.


A third way to introduce a new habit is by using and redesigning your environment.

For example: every time you have dinner you use a smaller plate. After a while your body gets used to this smaller portion to feel satisfied.

By redesigning your living environment you can stimulate certain behavior. What is in your sight gets attention:

For example: A gym bag in your sight triggers going to the gym.

Some parts of our environment cannot be changed, but what we can influence is how we interact with it.

For example: Taking a route to work that passes a grocery store instead of a fast food restaurant.

Optional: Remove unwanted habits

Once you have introduced and integrated the new habit to your current pattern, you can apply the same strategy to remove an unwanted habit.

For example: Every time you walk the dog, you skip the coffee, and have the glass of water. Or, every time someone offers you birthday cake, you skip saying yes, stand up and walk around.

Only when you are ready

Already after a few weeks after taking these three steps, you will notice the difference. Or better; you will not notice it because your new habit has become automatic and unconscious behavior.

Keep in mind that you can achieve and change anything you want. As long as you are ready for it. Involvement is crucial.

Is your goal really your priority? (Do this Test) Then you can do it. But if you’re not really ready, if you are not really convinced you can do it, it is probably not going to happen. Change happens when you are ready!  For more info: read this article.

Create your own health!©

References Retrieved Nov. 25, 2022.

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