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How to Make a Healthy Habit Stick

How to Make a Healthy Habit Stick

In the movie Stranger than Fiction, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) discovers he’s the protagonist in a novel—and the voice he’s been hearing in his head is the author’s narration of his life. “Every weekday for 12 years, Harold would brush each of his 32 teeth 76 times; 38 times back and forth, 38 times up and down. Every weekday for 12 years, Harold would tie his tie in a single Windsor knot instead of the double, thereby saving up to 43 seconds.”

While Harold’s habits sound extreme, adding a new healthy habit to your morning routine is a good idea. That’s the time it takes to make a new habit … habitual. Researchers think that’s because your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that makes learning more difficult, is highest in the morning, and focusing on learning when it’s a challenge may mean that the info is more solidly encoded in your memory.

In a study published in Health Psychology, researchers instructed 48 people to adopt a new stretching routine. Half were told to do it after waking up, the other half before going to sleep. An app tracked whether they’d done the stretch and how automatic it became. While both groups made progress, the daily routine became a habit much more quickly for the morning group.

So, if you’re looking to adopt a healthy habit—say meditation or yoga—start doing it first thing in the morning. Before you know it, you might find it’s become second nature.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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