Is your wellness program helping change behavior and build habits or is it just putting more money into your employees’ pockets?

It’s no secret that one of the biggest skepticisms of wellness programs is that they drive short-term behavior change to earn a reward instead of effecting long-term, positive habit formation.

Habits Are Automatic

Habits are automatic behaviors. The human brain loves to build habits because they free up processing power to focus on other uncommon, potentially threatening stimuli. (Incidentally, the brain’s primary function is survival.)

Forming a habit takes time and effort which is why breaking them can be so challenging — one literally needs to rewire the brain to form a new routine.

There are similarities between habits and wellness. Most people have tried a diet or exercise routine and eventually abandoned them because the attempted activity never became a habit. In most cases, the new program demands too much change at once, so it is overwhelming. Instead, small habits that focus on achievable milestones enable people to truly improve their wellness level.

So how do you build a habit?

The book 21 Habits: A Wellness Survival Guide outlines a 6-step process:

  1. Believe It. Pick a habit that you are excited about and believe in. If you are not completely convinced that you want a particular habit, then it’s much harder to master it. Study the habit, think about why it may be important, and let the desire to change grow within you. Forming and sticking to a new habit is much easier if you are sold on it.
  2. Shrink It. Pick a habit that is small and easy. If you want to eat more vegetables, start by eating just one vegetable a day. If you end up eating more than one vegetable some days, great! Also, only work on one habit at a time. As tempting as it is to try to change everything at once, if you try to develop more than one new habit at a time, you decrease your chances of success.
  3. Trigger It. A trigger is something that sparks a behavior. You may not even realize this happens, but you have triggers that cause you to do things all day long. To start a new habit, you need to find a good trigger to initiate the habit. The best triggers are things that already happen every day. Every time you leave home, you can fill up a water bottle. Simply seeing the water bottle can be another trigger to prompt you to drink more water.
  4. Prepare for It. You would never go on a trip without preparing for it. Building a new habit is similar. If you are not prepared, your journey will be much less enjoyable, and you may not even make it to your destination. Being prepared for your journey can make all the difference.
  5. Track It. Each time you work on creating a new habit, track it. It will help you see your progress as you go. Building a habit can take a while, so be patient with yourself. Some habits can be formed in a few weeks. Others might take months. Just keep working on it until you feel con dent that it has become part of your regular routine. If you stop for some reason, start again. Your next attempt will be more successful.
  6. Be It. In order for you to keep doing your new habit for the rest of your life, it needs to become ingrained as part of your identity, of who you are. If you stop eating donuts, to keep it up over the long term, you need to believe you are a healthy person, the type of person that rarely eats a donut. A habit is never a habit for life until it becomes part of who you are.

Build habits that last