It’s funny how we think of success. We typically consider success to be one huge event, like becoming a multimillionaire, or getting a big promotion, or winning the lottery. But success is very rarely a sudden, unexpected event.

Instead, success comes with slow, steady progress. It’s a marathon, not a race, right? We all have parts of our daily routine that we need to change to create a healthier lifestyle—overeating, eating the wrong foods, not exercising—the list goes on and on.

In your group of friends, you likely have one friend who keeps talking about being healthier but never does, yet another friend decided to be healthier, lost 30 pounds, exercises regularly and has stuck to all of those practices. What’s the difference between these two people? Why does one talk while the other gets it done?

It’s not a lack of knowledge. We know what we need to do to be healthy, but we never achieve those goals. Why? Start with these three basic steps to healthy habits and living a better life.

1. Take Baby Steps

Go big or go home doesn’t work well when deciding to go healthy. People tend to commit to way more than is reasonably possible, particularly at New Year’s resolution time. You probably heard your co-workers talking about going paleo AND running 10 miles a day AND working out at the gym AND giving up wine, all at the same time. But your co-worker is a fried food eating, non-exercising machine, right?

So that is probably not going to last. Trying to accomplish everything at one time is too overwhelming, and often people do NOT achieve their goals. After those first few exhilarating days, they realize they don’t have a chance to do all of this stuff. Then it quickly becomes a downward spiral. Starting small is the key to success.

2. Forget Instant Gratification

Set your expectations appropriately. It took years for you to develop the extra weight you are toting around, so it’s not going away in a week.

Our society is one of instant gratification. Things are easy to get whenever we want them, but healthier lifestyles come with hard work and daily habits. You can’t expect to quickly and easily get in shape. It just doesn’t work that way.

3. Focus on Your Habits

People who discipline themselves to follow a daily routine are the ones that succeed. Creating good habits to replace bad habits is also a key factor. Examine your daily routine and the aspects that lead to bad habits. No time for lunch? Instead of stopping at the nearest fast food place, change your daily routine to give yourself enough time in the morning to pack a healthy lunch. Or better yet, make your lunch the night before.

Habits are a double-edged sword–they can be your greatest asset or your worst enemy, depending on whether that practice contributes to your success. These ongoing behaviors are certainly our constant companions. But only good ones are the secret to success. If you have positive habits, keep them, because they will help you live a healthier life every day. Then build on them.

Let’s say you want to start exercising. Remember to start small. Instead of grabbing a fattening snack in front of the TV when you come home, get your workout shoes and go for a run. Sure, the first couple of weeks might be tough. But if you stick with it, you are replacing a somewhat bad habit with a good one. You might even begin to look forward to that after-work exercise. Don’t make it too structured—just try to squeeze in some form of exercise each day—whatever works for your schedule.

Make a list of bad habits you want to break, pick one, and start there. Master one and move on to the next one. Let’s say you want to start healthy eating, drop fifty pounds, quit smoking, and run a marathon. Pick one habit and focus on it. Over a three to four week period, cook four healthy meals the first week, then five, six and seven.

Start with five minutes of exercise each day, then keeping going a little longer. If you’re drinking a six pack of soda per day, drink five cans and replace the other can with water. Add a bottle of water each week. And before you know it, you will have kicked the habit.

Make it easy to follow through with your habits, like keeping your running shoes in the car or making a grocery list of healthy foods before your weekly shopping trip. Planning ahead helps you develop and keep healthier habits.

No matter what goals you’ve set for yourself, little steps go a long way. You can have a healthier life. Start today. Discuss functional medicine with us to learn more about your biochemical individuality and the role it plays in optimum health. We are here to help you find realistic ways to achieve your goals.

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