Changing habits – if only it were easy! It was so lovely to hear from so many of you about adopting some of the recommendations I made in "5 Simple Ways to Healthier Days", but how many of you are still doing them? Well, it got me thinking; how long until a change in behaviour truly becomes habit?
We’ve all done it – launch guns blazing into the first week, brimming with enthusiasm and determination. Things are going so well and then flash-bang, you’ve failed! Little devils of temptation get the better of us, life just gets in the way and before we even realise it, we’ve fallen off the wagon!
What deems failure though? A black-and-white approach to success often has us quitting at the first hurdle - the ‘oh well, I’ve failed already so I may as well give up entirely’ attitude. Whilst the clear-cut nature of this ‘all or nothing’ approach is simpler to grasp, it is ultimately a recipe for disaster. If anything but perfection is deemed a failure then you’ll either become a) so militant and inflexible in your ways that that in itself is stressful and in my eyes not particularly healthy, or b) doomed to a life of repeated ‘failures’, personal disappointment, dissatisfaction and no forward movement.
So what is the secret to making lasting changes to you daily habits? Whether it’s biting your nails, cutting out refined sugars or exercising more, how can we make things that seem so alien at first become so routine we’re barely aware of the effort involved in doing them?
Changing habits takes time, perseverance and yes of course some will power and determination. To help you along the way though, here are some tips that I personally use everyday!
1. SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY.
Make yourself socially accountable – proclaim your intention to family, friends, work colleagues, and ask for their support along the way. A touch of peer pressure can be helpful sometimes!
2. RAlly the Troops.
Start a messaging (i.e WhatsApp) group between friends who share your mission and pursue the journey together. Their input will serve as a reminder, inspiration and you support each other along the way. It is SO important when making positive changes in life that you surround yourself with people who support, encourage and inspire you. More on this here…
3. eMPLOY YOUR CLEVER PHONE.
Use your smart phone and/or computer for reminders. Whether it’s an inspiring picture as your background, a memory trigger as your lock screen or actual reminder alarms or emails programmed into your diary – technology is truly fantabulous these days!
Man I love post-it notes. Write reminders, words of encourgement, ‘the bigger picture’ etc. and stick them on the mirror in your bathroom, on the inside cover of your book/diary/work folder, on the fridge. They serve as great memory triggers and when positioned cleverly i.e. on the fridge, they can be an invaluable little nudge in the right direction when you’re having a sink or swim moment!
5. BE KIND.
Make your affirmations positive rather than negative. Look at the phrases ‘I make healthy choices’, compared to ‘No chocolate, no cakes, no biscuits, no coffee!’ For me, one is full of empowerment and encouragement and the other reaks of self-deprivation and negativity, yet they encapsulate the same message. Whether written, verbal or internal thoughts, flip all behaviour changes – even those focussed on stopping something – into a positive phrase.
6. BE CLEAR.
Get crystal clear on your reasons for the change. Firstly, doing this will help with the above - frame changes with positivity. Secondly, when you have clear purpose that truly resonates with you, the motivation, dedication and stick-to-it-ability comes a whole lot easier. So ask yourself why you are introducing this change, what is the bigger picture? Dig deep with the WHY behind the change. Make this your driving force rather than the rules of the change itself. Short-term comforts are far easier to bypass when you’re strongly driven by the long-term goals!
7. BE SPECIFIC.
Get specific with you goals. Rather than deciding to ‘exercise more frequently’ or ‘eat more vegetables’, specify – ‘exercise for 30 minutes 4 times a week’, ‘eat at least 4 portions of vegetables every day’. Then, create a means of monitoring it - a simple tick box for your week’s exercise where you mark off when you’ve performed. This keeps you monitoring your achievement and let’s face it, who doesn’t love ticking something off!
Make behaviours routine by MAKING them routine! I’m seriously scatty, so if I do not structure new behaviours into my day – I’ll forget. When possible, slotting the new habits in around activities that are already habitual serves as a fabulous reminder and aids consistency. For example, schedule things for when you first wake up, at breakfast time, when you brush your teeth, every Sunday morning, just before you go to bed etc.
So how long does it take until a new behaviour becomes automatic? The research is exceptionally varied but the average figure is just over 2 months – 66 days to be precise. 66 days of commitment to the cause and then things will (hopefully) seem a whole lot easier! What I felt was more pertinent, was the common agreement that:
missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour does not affect the habit formation process.
My point - stop giving yourself such a hard time! Commit to the change for the right reasons (on which you are very clear), but accept that sometimes we do forget, or it truly wasn’t possible. As long as honestly that was the reason, and you’re not just giving yourself an easy ride – forgive the odd slip up and just continue the journey in the knowledge that you’re on track to changing habits that will change your life.
Here are some 'habits' I have introduced into my days and a few suggestions for yours:
- Go to bed with a large glass of water, so that when I wake in the morning, I rehydrate before even getting up!
- Replace coffee with green tea – the caffeine hit without the nasty free radicals.
- 10 press-ups and a 30 seconds plank before bed every night.
- Stork (stand on one leg) whilst brushing teeth (see here).
- Supplement vitamin D / omega-3s / probiotics every day at breakfast time.
- Dry brush body every Sunday morning. (Improves circulation, aids lymphatic drainage and is a fabulous cellulite buster!)
- Sit up straight! At your desk, dinner table, in your car, on the train. The creeping ‘slouch’ that plagues so many of our days is so unhealthy. Make an active decision to sit up straight, get those shoulders back and down and use all the above methods for reminders.
- A new one for me – stretch my shoulders and hips EVERY DAY for at least 10 minutes, if not during the day then before bed and yes, I have employed all of the above methods to help me on this journey!
HAPPY HABIT CHANGING - GOOD LUCK!