We all know that January is a time when people feel immense pressure to set goals and resolutions. From our experience, resolutions that are made in February are more likely to stick than those promises made in January that are loaded down with the pressure of the New Year. This week we catch up with Dr. Heather McKee, Behaviour Change Psychologist who helps shed some much needed light on creating healthy habits that stick...

1. What would you recommend is the best place to get started in terms of supporting employees with their healthy habits?

Find out what they want.

Research shows that when you consider a person’s needs and values they are much more likely to be motivated to engage in a programme. So for example; running a quick survey, presenting staff with a list of options or even just having a brief chat with them to find out what the key issues that they are battling right now, what are their needs, and what are they interested in. Engaging them in the development process is key to a programme, and their own, long-term success. 

Photo credit: Pexels

Photo credit: Pexels

2. What are the common traps people fall into when creating healthy habits and how to overcome them? What bad habits in general do you find people fall into? And how can they ensure they achieve their goals?

Whilst our intentions this time of year are in the right place, all too often we try and do too much. We promise to go to the gym every day, cut down sugar, eat the perfect diet… the list goes on. 

These goals tend to put us under unnecessary pressure where we feel we have to make all of the positive changes at once and do them perfectly without any slip ups, otherwise it’s all been in vain.

This isn’t effective and frankly it’s not an enjoyable way to live your life.

The problem with this is, the more goals you try to achieve at once the less likely you are to succeed. This is known as goal dilution.

Ultimately our willpower is a limited resource, think of it like a muscle; if you overuse it, it becomes fatigued and you end up not being able to exercise it at all.

Hence why after a few weeks we tend to give in to temptation, stray from our goals and end up feeling like we are back at square one again.

However if you train your willpower in adequate amounts, taking a rest when needed and not trying to do too much, building up over time, it, like a muscle grows stronger.

What does this look like in practice? The best way to avoid diluting your goals, is to focus on one goal at a time and look to build consistent habits related to this goal. Overtime these habits will become easier and more automatic, then you can move on to tackling your next big goal.

Photo credit: Pexels

Photo credit: Pexels

3. How long does it take to make a new habit?

Unfortunately, much longer than is commonly thought. 21 days is a myth!

Research has found that this is highly dependent on the individual and can be anything between 66-122 days.

The key with habit formation is consistency; the more often you repeat something in a given situation, the more likely it is that you will start to form a habit, healthy or non-healthy.

The key here is to look at habit formation as a marathon not a sprint.

The good news is, as time goes on, it gets easier rather than harder. The more consistent you are, the more likely it is that sustainable habits start to form and these will, through repetition eventually become automatic.

So once a habit has been formed it's very hard to break it.  

4. Why do you think people fail to achieve their weight loss goals?

Weight loss is a complex issue hence why it tends to be so difficult for many. Often we are looking for the solution, the perfect diet, exercise programme, that silver bullet rather than examining the problem itself. Each individual has their own unique set of drivers that effect their behaviour. The key is peeling back the layers and looking at these drivers directly so we can break any negative cycles of behaviours and build some new healthier ones.

For example, stress is a behavioural driver that can completely undermine a weight loss attempt. You can be doing all of the right things and then suddenly a highly stressful situation comes along and your healthy habits are out the window. Thus, learning how to cope with stress effectively so it doesn’t derail all the positives changes you have made is key.

Low self-esteem can be another driver. Often people try and lose weight as they are unhappy with how they look, however if they veer off track they tend to be very hard on themselves and this can lead to negative self-talk which in turn lowers self-esteem and makes them more conscious of their weight, it’s a vicious cycle.

Dieting is another reason that people fail at their weight loss goals. The feelings of restriction and deprivation that come along with an episode of dieting can negatively affect success. Researchers have even found that merely telling people they are going on a diet the following week caused them to overcompensate and eat significantly more than others who were not told that they were going on a diet.

Simply using the word diet conjures up all sorts of feelings of deprivation – images of surviving on lettuce leaves in addition to gruelling daily workouts. The problem with this is not only is it miserable long-term, it will not get you the results you need.


5. What can people do to ensure they stay on the road to success? In terms of forming healthy habits and making sure they stick, do you have any tips or advice you can share on this?

In 2005, a group of researchers studied 5000 individuals who have successfully lost and maintained a significant amount of weight over at least 5 years. This research demonstrated that there was no single method that worked best for long term success. There were no individual genetic characteristics or personality types that contributed towards these peoples success. There was no particular diet that these people used that was any better than another.

In actual fact no two people in this group of 5,000 lost weight in the same way!

What the researchers found was that through trial and error these successful individuals had each honed their own system for success. They found a particular set of habits that worked best for them, and if they executed these habits consistently it lead to their ongoing success.

In other words, the study showed that the key to long term success is ultimately about finding out what works for you. Finding your own unique system of habits.

So what is the best way to do this?

In support of this, researchers at Duke University found that habits account for about 40% of our behaviours on any given day. The key is to develop a system of habits that works within the constraints of your lifestyle that will support you in achieving your weight loss goals.

The 5,000 successful weight loss maintainers got to where they are today not through punishment and restriction but through trial and error.

You can start to experiment by making small but consistently healthy changes to your lifestyle.

Focusing on small changes is effective as it helps reinforce the importance of focusing on the process of building healthy habits.

Ultimately health is a habit if you aim to build up to eating healthily or exercising 70-80% of the time, what you do the rest of the time doesn’t have as big an impact on your success. So instead of wasting your willpower on restrictive and ineffective diets, focus on building a system of habits that work for you.


6.  If everyone was to take one nugget of knowledge or top tip away with them today to help them get started on their wellness journey, what advice would you give them? 

Start small.

You can do this by asking yourself, what is the smallest step I can take today for my health?

For example; my clients set themselves one small change that they intend to make each week with regards to their weight loss. This is intentionally tiny so it doesn’t feel too punishing or restrictive. For example things you could do to get started with could be;

·       putting half a spoon full of sugar less in your daily tea or coffee

·       making sure all coffees you get are a size smaller

·       walking 50 more steps on your fitness tracker a day.

These may seem like insignificantly small changes but cumulatively they can have a BIG impact on your long term success. For example; if your goal is to have a smaller size latte per day, this can result in… 50,000 less calories consumed per year.

You can then work through ways to add to these small changes in a way that suits your lifestyle, slowly growing the combined effect that these changes can have, ultimately insuring your long term weight loss success.

Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process makes a huge difference.

So why not set yourself a small goal for this week? Think about what you could do that could have a positive impact on your health, yet doesn’t feel too restrictive or draining?

Dr Heather McKee is the founder of Dr McKee’s coaching programmes have introduced a more intelligent and evidence based way for you to achieve long term success. Dr McKee is offering 5 free 30 minute New Year’s goal setting sessions. To be in with a chance of winning simply email with the word Wellaware