Habits are the fabric of our lives. Think of the time and effort we save because of them. Once a habitual act is ingrained in us we no longer have to think about it – we just do it! And we do it very efficiently and effectively because of all the repetition. Therefore, it only makes sense that, to establish new habits takes a bit of time and effort.
People are different and have different ways of doing things. This doesn’t make one way better than the other, just preferable for a certain person. Many different roads can be traveled to reach the same destination. This applies to lifestyle changes as well.
- Start small, gaining little successes and building on them. Pick the “low hanging fruit” not actions that are more difficult, or that may be more difficult for you in your current life situation. If I may borrow from baseball terminology: “Don’t swing for a homerun. Hitting a single is easier, so put together a bunch of singles to score your run” (successfully meet your goal).
- Be specific. Don’t say “I’m going to eat more nutritiously,” as this gives you no guidance for what to do or how to measure if you are accomplishing your goal. You might instead say “I will eat at least 3 servings of vegetables a day,” because this is a specific action that can easily be evaluated. Either you ate 3 servings of vegetables or you didn’t!
- Have a support system. Having friends and family to cheer you on is reinforcing and increases your chances of success.
- Doing things alone is can be more difficult. Find a friend, family member or work colleague that is willing to buddy with you. If you commit to walking, going to the gym or making healthy meals with another person, it makes it more difficult to rationalize not doing it.
- List reasons why you want to establish a new habit and post it where you see it every day (particularly at point-of-decision places like refrigerator door, pantry, office)
- Write down the habit(s) you want to create and give a copy to a “witness.”
- If creating the habit involves complex behavior, think about and then list the specific action(s) you need to take to accomplish it. Breaking something down into clear, uncomplicated action steps makes it seem more doable, and increases your chance of success.
- Minimize temptation, particularly while you are attempting to create your new habit. Don’t make it harder on yourself and overuse your willpower muscle. Do all you can to put yourself in an environment that is in line with what you are trying to accomplish. If you are trying to adopt a healthier eating plan that is lower in calories and fat, stay away from fast food establishments. If you do go out to eat, find a restaurant that has plenty of appetizing choices that are in sync with your goal.
- Know your triggers. Be aware of what situations and circumstances (e.g. places, foods, and emotions) can breakdown your resolve and lead you toward the actions you are trying to change. Triggers can be avoided or minimized by the control you exert over your environment. For example, if you have a weakness for chocolate cake, it might be prudent to not have it in the house. After your new eating habit has been engrained, you may then be able to enjoy foods like this in moderation. If stress is a trigger to overindulge in foods that are of lesser nutritional value, try alternative responses – relaxation exercises, meditation, exercise, gardening, talking with a friend, etc.
- Don’t be discouraged if you revert to an old habit. See it as a minor setback, not a failure. Each time you employ the actions relating to your new habit you build upon its foundation. Then when you re-employ those actions after a setback, they continue to add to that foundation. You are not starting over again. Eventually, when that foundation is strong enough, the new habit will take over and success will be yours!
- Be futuristic. Train your mind to see yourself in the future as a healthy, energetic person that feels great physically and emotionally. Doing so will help diminish the strength of immediate gratification from eating that donut instead of a piece of fruit, or taking a walk with a friend instead of watching television. It will also help you to develop a self-image of someone that sees health as important and lives their life accordingly. Then the concept of self-fulfilling prophesy will work for you – you will become what you see yourself to be!