You have vowed to start making healthy changes in your life. You rid your pantry of anything not healthy. You joined the local gym. You bought supplements and promised yourself eight hours of sleep. You started out with great determination.
Weeks later, you have lost that momentum and are back where you began.
Realize that change is not easy but is possible. Your habits, good and bad, are engrained because they serve a purpose and are done repeatedly. The definition of a habit in the Oxford Dictionary is “a thing that you do often and almost without thinking, especially something that is hard to stop.”
Start with the person in the mirror
What are your thoughts on changing your habits? Do you feel that habits can be changed or that habits are permanent? Mindset is powerful. You create what you believe. If you believe that habits are permanent, changing habits will be impossible. Each habit is first created and then retained by repetition. As a baby, you did not feel the need to brush your teeth daily. Most adults brush their teeth daily. Between birth and adulthood, the habit of brushing your teeth daily was created and is retained by daily repetition. Replacing a bad habit starts with creating a good habit and repeating the new habit until it is engrained. Simple but not easy.
All habits serve a purpose
List all of the healthy habits you want to adopt and the bad habits you want to eliminate. A list to create a healthier life could include diet rehaul, daily exercise, regular meditation, drinking enough water, more sleep, and spending more time with friends and family. A list of bad habits could be drinking too much alcohol, not exercising, too many drive-through meals, craving sweet treats, and too much coffee and soda.
Look at the habit you want to change. These habits serve a purpose. What purpose do they serve? Does the daily glass of wine help to reduce stress? Do you find exercise uncomfortable? Is the fast-food meal the quickest answer when hungry? Were sweet treats a reward for childhood accomplishments?
Once you understand the underlying purpose, a different solution can be found. For example, instead of a glass of wine to reduce stress, take a boxing class. Imagine your annoying co-working while hitting the heavy bag.
Hook a new habit with an existing habit
To increase the likelihood of success, link a new habit to an existing habit. Say you want to start to take supplements, have the supplement bottles and an empty glass next to your toothbrush. Add taking your supplements (new, desired habit) at the same time as brushing your teeth (established habit).
Celebrate Incremental Progress
Break the new habit into incremental steps and celebrate the achievement of each step. Starting a new exercise program could include these incremental steps:
- Picking the exercise program to start
- Pulling out (or buying) the clothing and equipment needed
- Blocking the time on the calendar for the exercise program
- Dressing in the exercise clothing
- Doing the exercise program the first time
- Doing the exercise program the next day
- Doing the exercise program for a week
- Doing the exercise program for a month
- Returning to the exercise program after being sick
Eliminate Obstacles and Plan for Triggers
Set yourself up for success by eliminating obstacles and plan for triggers. An example of eliminating obstacles is to remove from your house any foods which are not on a healthy eating plan, before starting a healthy eating plan. If you know that going to a movie triggers the desire to have a big tub of popcorn, have a plan in place before you walk into the movie theater (maybe buying a small bag of popcorn or go to the movies after eating, when too full for popcorn).
Accountability and Tracking Progress
Having an accountability partner will increase your odds of success. Knowing that someone is supporting you along your journey can help you navigate some of the challenges inherent in adopting a new habit or eliminating a bad habit. In addition to updating your accountability partner, tracking your progress can help you acknowledge how far you have come.
Realize that any regression does not mean complete failure. Creation of a new or recommitment to a stalled good habit can start any day. Each time a new habit is performed makes it closer to that habit becoming engrained.
What healthy, new habit will you start today?
To your health.
Dianne Hinton NP, PA, IFM-C