Good, bad or in-between, habits are powerful in driving us towards great change – or keeping us from it.
I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not battling a habit that needing breaking, or struggling toward one that needing making.
- Drink more water.
- Get more sleep.
- Keep up with the laundry.
- Read more books.
- Workout more.
- Complain less.
The list can go on and on!
I am queen of good intentions when it comes to habit forming. I make those lists, buy the ingredients (or wardrobe!) to go along with the lofty visions of my new life with these new habits and usually start off full steam ahead. Until reality sets in.
The reality that change is not easy. The reality is that making the time for something new is hard. The reality is that I love my comfy, cushy little cocoon that I curl up in, and going outside my comfort zone to bring on something new invades that security.
So how DO you go about ditching old habits or forming new ones?
Here are some strategies for forming new health(ier) habits that I have picked up in my years of experience:
- Make not Break – Our mind will accept making a new habit over our decision to abruptly break a bad one. For instance, if your goal is to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night and you are a night-owl hovering around 5 hours, telling yourself you have to now go to bed 2-3 hours earlier and ditch the late night TV shows and FB surfing will be not very welcomed by your mind. Instead, focus on creating a habit of getting into your bed 2-3 hours earlier and reading or journaling. This alone will start to “crowd out” what you were doing, and the old habits will naturally start to dissipate. Another example might be if you want to drink less coffee and sweetened beverages. Instead of telling yourself you must break the habit of drinking those things, tell yourself you are going to MAKE a new habit of drinking a glass of water before you go for any other beverage. You will naturally start drinking more water and less of the other things.
- Commit to 30 days – Research shows that it takes, on average, 21 days for something to become a habit. Once you have decided on what habit you want to create, mark it down on your calendar and commit to plugging away daily for the next 30 days. Non-negotiable!
- Keep it Simple – You may want to be running 5 miles at a clip or taking a group fitness class 5 times a week for an hour at a clip – but you currently are not working out at all. Don’t try to boil the ocean all at once. Try starting with something simple, like committing to moving your body every day. Schedule in 30 minutes daily to do something physical; walk, jog, or even dance. Simplicity and consistency will help set you up for success! Once your mind and body have made moving a daily habit, you can expand upon this.
- Habit Stacking – This is one of my favorite habit creating hacks. Think of a habit that you have that is so ingrained in your routine you do not even think about having to do it anymore. Take brushing your teeth (at least I HOPE that is one you have nailed down by now!). If a new habit you want to form is drinking more water upon waking, have a glass of water ready before you go brush your teeth each morning. Drink the water before or after brushing your teeth (if you are adding lemon I would recommend before). At first it will be messing with your mojo as you mindlessly brush, but before you know it, you will be pounding that extra 8 ounces at the start of each day! I recently used this trick to get myself IN my workout clothes before leaving my bedroom in the morning and delaying. Each night I lay out my workout outfit on my bathroom counter and put them on before putting in my contacts and brushing my teeth. I just “stacked” my daily habits and it worked after a few weeks.
- Get a Buddy – Having someone else go through the habit forming process with you increases your chances of success tenfold. Just knowing that another person is counting on you to show up for a workout date, check in with you on your daily diet, push you to go that extra mile on a run, or relying on you to eat the salad for lunch each day with them is often enough to ensure that you yourself do not crap out. Every time I set big goals for myself – whether it’s running a half marathon, losing ten pounds or cutting out sugar for 30 days – I had a buddy that worked along side of me. I feel strongly about honoring my commitments to others, often more than to myself, so the buddy system works wonders for this gal!
- Run it as an Experiment-This is a little mental trick that works wonders on the mindset. Do not tell yourself that you are cutting something out or taking on something new. Instead tell yourself you are experimenting for the next 30 days. The Experiments cannot fail so resist judging yourself for the 30 days and just allow what happens to happen. This worked tremendously well for me recently as I decided to experiment with removing caffeine from my diet. For years I had a nagging suspicion that my body did not love the daily highs and lows of my caffeine addiction but the thought of “cutting it out” was enough to have my mind shut down before I even tried for a whole day. Framing it as an experiment was just that, an experiment. If it worked, great, and if it didn’t, nothing lost!
There certainly are many more little tricks that we can tap into to form new habits. But regardless of which ones you decide to use as habit forming hacks, make sure you are doing the habit forming for YOU and not because you think you “should” be doing it.
Pattern your habits towards your greater goals and use them as stepping stones that take you in a direction towards meeting them!