HOW TO ESTABLISH A HEALTHY HABIT - In 9 Easy Steps
About this time of the year we tend to make plans for the year to come - and this usually includes one or more "New Year's Resolutions" - exercise more, change to a healthier diet, lose weight, … . In my experience, however, these self-care plans are the first to be ditched.
Despite best intentions, changing a habit, or establishing a new one, can be tough. Along the way you are likely to hit a road block, because you feel overwhelmed by the task, you can't see any improvement, or you just don't get the support you need to continue.
Don't give up! Here come
9 EASY STEPS THAT HELP YOU STAY ON TRACK:
1. MAKE A CLEAR & CONSCIOUS DECISION
Of course, you SHOULD eat more veggies, and you SHOULD exercise more – but SHOULD is not a decision. Understand WHY eating more vegetables or exercising more is important for you and precisely describe your plan: “Each day, I WILL get up at 6am and practise THIS yoga routine to reduce my back pain.” Write it down. Just the act of writing it down – by hand! – will make it stick to your memory. In addition, read it out aloud/recite it each day. If you need a visual reminder, frame your note and put it up in a prominent place at home or where you need it the most.
2. SAME TIME
Practise your new habit at the same time every day. Choose a time that works best for you. Block this time in your calendar and treat it as an important appointment. If possible, anchor your new habit to an established one. For example, if you already run or go for a walk in the morning, start a little bit earlier and add 15 minutes of yoga after the run. Or walk 15 minutes in a nearby park before driving home from work. Or start each breakfast with a piece of fresh fruit.
3. SAME ENVIRONMENT
Create a special environment where you practise your new habit: Wear a special set of sportswear when going for a run; use a prayer shawl when sitting down to meditate; always sit down at the dining table for your meals; reserve a special corner in your house or garden for yoga and meditation. Build a ritual around your habit. This helps you switch to “practice” mode.
Tell others that you are practising a new behaviour. Let them know what you want to do and why this is so important for you. Ask them to support you – maybe they want to join you? Just knowing that your friends are watching you will be a not-to-be-missed motivation!
5. MAKE A PLAN FOR OBSTACLES
It is best to not allow exemptions in the formative stages until your habit becomes automatic. However, you WILL hit roadblocks along the way! Think ahead and imagine what may keep you from practising – rain, long work hours, kids…? Make a plan for what to do if the event occurs: Get appropriate outdoor gear; prepare a minimum 10-15 minutes-exercise-routine that can be squeezed into the tightest schedule, ask your partner to keep an eye on the kids so that they don’t disturb you. And if it is just your mind asking for a snooze, remind yourself that it is for your better health and wellbeing. Usually, if not practicing your new habit you will feel guilty for the rest of the day and are likely to give up the whole things after two or three “bad” days. How much better do you feel when you just do it?!
6. SEEK INSPIRATION
After a week or so of excitement reality sets in when you enter the challenging phase of your “re-programming”. If you notice that practicing your new habit gets harder, seek inspiration or guidance: Sign up for a yoga course, try an app that helps you keep track of your running progress or read an inspiring book. Even better, surround yourself with like-minded people. A positive message every day is a reminder for you to keep going.
7. SET MILESTONES & REWARD YOURSELF
You may know this from your child's toilet training: Every successful day is marked with a golden star on a VISIBLE calendar/chart. It helps to set milestones along the way, eg. every 7th successful day you treat yourself with a cup of coffee at your favourite café, a massage, a movie. And what would you like to do when you successfully complete your challenge?
8. ONE STEP AT A TIME
Not even God created heaven and earth in one day! Choose one thing that is most important for you and go for it. If it is a big task, break it down into smaller portions. Like in running, if your goal is to run 5k, you will start with short run-walk-intervals until you can run 10 minutes straight (milestone - reward!), then gradually build up to longer running periods until you nail the full distance. When you manage to change one little thing each month, you will have created 12 better habits by the end of the year!
9. TAKE YOUR TIME
Commit to at least 21 days to practise your new habit. Depending on the complexity of your new habit it can take anything between 14 to 90 days to establish it. Getting into a daily exercise routine will probably take longer than the daily orange juice for breakfast. Keep going until you feel your day-to-day life is not complete without your new habit. When the new habit has become part of your identity, you have truly nailed it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carmen has been teaching traditional Hatha and Kundalini yoga for more than 10 years. She is founder an co-owner of Inner Smile Yoga & Health in Altona (Melbourne). Her aim is to make people develop a healthier lifestyle that is based on the 5 core principles: Proper breathing, proper exercise, proper relaxation, proper diet and a positive mindset.