Everyone knows the struggle of trying to live a healthier life. Each new year we want to start fresh: a new diet, or the gym membership you’ve wanted. But by March we forget all about it. Why is that? Why do we return to eating a pastry for breakfast, binging another episode of our favorite show, or passing up the gym after work? We may not think of it this way, but these are all just habits, and with the right strategies these habits can be changed.
It may not be easy altering these habits, as most habits take time to set in, but consistency is key. Once you’ve changed the habit, what once seemed impossible is suddenly the easiest thing to do. Here is how we build those habits, in five achievable steps:
Step 1: Start Small
While you may want to set the bar high, the key is to set small, achievable goals. Smaller goals help make the process of change manageable and are critical for our success. If we set realistic expectations, we are significantly more likely to see them through. This creates continuous pats on the back that motivate us to continue to meet any goals we set for ourselves. As we continue to meet our goals and experience all the joy that comes with it, we can raise the bar little by little. We all like the feeling of success, so why not set goals for ourselves that we can achieve?
Step 2: Familiar Places
A significant block to forming new habits is simply remembering to complete them. You are far more likely to remember this task if you pick a consistent time and place to do it. Forgetting to brush your teeth rarely happens because it has become an ingrained part of your morning and nightly routine. This phenomenon is known as “context stability.” By setting a time and place, we inch closer to our goal of creating a routine. You no longer have to consciously think about completing the task; it just becomes second nature, like riding a bike.
Step 3: Prep the First Step
Neil Armstrong would be the first to tell you that the first step is always the hardest. Although we may not be walking on the moon, we should always try to make that first step as easy as possible. For example, laying out workout clothes before going to bed makes it more likely you will do that early morning workout. Or, not buying cookies at the grocery store will guarantee they won’t become a midnight snack. We need to support our future selves by making our new goals the easiest thing to do now, in anticipation.
Step 4: The Buddy System
Just like not wanting to get lost as a kid, we don’t want to lose the motivation for these new habits, and the best way to achieve this is with a partner. Being social beings, we feel far more guilt letting our peers down than letting ourselves down. We have all talked ourselves out of a workout class. Now what if your best friend was waiting for you at the studio, would it have played out differently? We think so. This act of accountability is called “positive peer pressure.” Meeting with a study buddy, finding a workout partner, or joining a book club can keep us accountable as we seek to achieve our goals. Community is one of the most powerful aspects of who we are, so let’s use our social nature to our advantage.
Step 5: Anticipate Your Excuses
Our present selves want us to be successful, but the problem is we know our future selves may come up with any number of excuses when it’s time for the hard part - actually following through. What we can do is prepare for excuses by coming up with responses in advance. This is known as “implementation intention;” we anticipate various obstacles and prepare our responses in each scenario. For example, “if I sleep through my alarm, I’ll go on a run rather than go to the gym.” The obstacles we create for ourselves are less intimidating when we already have a thoughtful response lined up.
No matter what your goal is, doing so will be easier if your habits are working for you. With simple steps and consistency you can build the habits that work for you not against you.
At happy being®, we are always here to support you on your health journey - just drop us a message firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!