Habits often get a bad rap. When we think of our habits, or those of others, it’s often the negative ones that spring to mind; he has a habit of interrupting, she has a habit of leaving the lights on. But habits by definition aren’t necessarily bad. You can have good habits, such as brushing your teeth or making your bed in the morning. The same goes for a healthy lifestyle; you can build healthy habits.
We probably all have things we would like to change or start doing towards a healthy lifestyle. Maybe it’s walking every day, or stopping late night eating. Often when we look at those things, we focus on the end goal such as getting in better shape or loosing weight. The end goal is important as it provides the why you want to make the change. However, in order to reach your goal, and build healthy habits, work is needed on the process.
Creating new habits, or getting rid of old ones, isn’t easy. We like routine and predictability. Therefore, getting that new habit into your routine is imperative. And it’s much easier to do that if you focus on a habit you like and for reasons that are meaningful to you. For example, if you want to exercise more, pick an activity you enjoy, not what someone else does. Below are seven tips that will help you build those healthy habits.
Seek Support from Those Around You
Changing habits is hard and getting support from people can always help. Let those close to you know your plan and talk to them about how they can help. In some cases, it’s a must. For example, it’s hard to stop smoking if all your friends are doing it. Or getting to sleep early if others in your house are noisy. In other cases, people around you can provide the encouragement to help keep you on track.
You may also want to seek out people who are interested in the same new habit as you. Working on it together can bring a sense of accountability and comradery that can be fun as well. Or find people who already doing what you want to do. Habits are contagious. If you hang out with healthy eaters, you’re more likely to eat healthy as well. You may also get great tips on how to go about building your new healthy habit.
Make the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice
Our world is filled with temptation, and unfortunately most of that temptation makes it hard to live a healthy life. Our cities are made for getting around in cars, not for walking. The checkout counter is stocked with candy bars, not fruit. And there may also be temptations in your own home.
For you to succeed, you need to create an environment that makes your habit the easy choice. If you want to exercise in the morning before going to work, get everything ready the night before. It’s one less thing to do in the morning and you can just grab and go. If you want to eat more fruit and vegetables, place a bowl in the open on the kitchen counter and hide (or throw out) the candies, cookies and cakes. Removing barriers and planning ahead can make your new habit easier to do.
Recognize and Reward Success
It’s tough creating a new habit, especially at the start. Why not recognize that and reward yourself. Create a log book in which you write down how successful you are with your habit. Or put an ‘X’ on your calendar for every day you do the new habit. Over time those marks will add up and keep you energized to keep going.
Don’t be afraid to reward yourself either. Set up mini-milestones, such as the first week you went without an after-dinner snack, or after a month of walking four times each week. Once you achieve these milestones reward yourself with something you like. It can be new walking shoes, or going to a spa or movie. It doesn’t have to be related to your new habit, but it shouldn’t be something to derail it either.
Forgive Yourself if you Falter
Nobody’s perfect. Even with the best planning and intentions, it’s possible things could go astray. You may miss an exercise session, or sneak in that cigarette, or eat that chocolate bar. These little missteps happen to the all of us. You’re not a failure if it happens to you.
If you do falter, see how you can learn from it. Was it a situation you can avoid? Will it impact your habit in the future? Most of the time, it’s a one-off situation that can easily be avoided in the future. At the same time, don’t beat yourself up about it. Dwelling on negative feelings can stall you in getting back to your habit. Recognize what happened, forgive yourself and move on.
Start Small and Work on One Habit at a Time
It’s always exciting beginning something new. You’re motivated and ready to go like a race horse in the starting gate. We need that enthusiasm as it provides the initial spark to get going, but sometimes too much excitement may lead you to take on more than you can handle. And this can mean you burn out quickly, get down when expectations aren’t met, or in the case of exercise, too much too soon could lead to injury.
The key is to start small and work from there. If you want to eat healthy, pick one simple habit to begin with. Perhaps it’s eating an apple each day, or forgoing dessert three times a week. If it’s more exercise, increase by only 5-10 minutes a day. Likewise, don’t try to start more than one habit at a time. Wait until your new habit has settled in before moving on to the next one.
Set Up Cues
We all lead busy lives and sometimes forget things that aren’t quite routine yet. We might forget to exercise one morning or it’s not until we have those potato chips at night we remember the habit of stopping late night eating. Sometimes we just need a reminder.
With technology, there are numerous ways to help you out. You can set an appointment in your calendar to remind you not to snack each night. Or send yourself an email. There are numerous apps for your phone that can support you in your journey with various reminders, data collection and journal logs. But choose something that works for you. It doesn’t have to be high-tech. You might find leaving your workout gear by the front door helps you remember to take it with you. A simple note on the fridge or your bathroom mirror may work. Placing the cue somewhere you will see everyday.
We all want to see results and we’re hardwired for instant gratification. That’s why things such as social media are addictive as they’re programmed to stimulate our mental reward centres. But success doesn’t come overnight, it comes through repetition and sticking to your plan. I can take hard work, but if you set up your habit right, over time it won’t seem like hard work at all.
It might take some time to meet your end goal and progress may be slow. That’s how it should be. Your current habits took years to be put in place. And if things did come easy, starting a new habit wouldn’t be a challenge. Tell yourself you’re in it for the long haul. Take pointers from above, and recognize your success and forgive yourself for faltering. Take happiness from the change you’ve made and the results will come.
When building a healthy habit, or stopping an old one, motivation and willpower will help, but only take you so far. You need to take time to set up your process. And remember, you’re doing it to feel good, so enjoy it.
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