In with the NEW! Don’t worry about out with the old. Focusing on a new habit (maybe in place of an old one) has been proven to be more successful (and efficient) than simply ‘breaking a bad habit’. There’s never a bad time to start a new healthy habit, so why not now?! Habit forming can be challenging and there are aspects of the process that we can practice to make them easier in the future. Not ready to upheave your whole life? I’m not asking you to. Is there a routine you’ve been meaning to implement for a while and it seems too daunting? Keep that one in mind as you continue reading. Maybe you’ll be inspired to tackle that goal, or maybe you’ll brainstorm some other ideas to practice within the meantime.
- START… not stop
Focusing on actions we want to stop often leaves us thinking about the negatives, with idle time, and/or feeling stuck and out of control. Our survival instincts, fight-flight-freeze, can be triggered or reinforced when we try to stop something that we have limited control of. To start an action (or thought process) requires brainstorming and consideration of the pros and cons and this is important to success in new habit formation. Some processing questions to ask yourself as you start a new habit are:
- What are you going to DO? What action are you going to take?
- If you are replacing part an old routine, then what can you keep the same? For example, if I’m adding 20 minutes of stretching to my morning routine then I may have to get up earlier, but my immediate wake up routine (like get out of bed, go to bathroom, brush teeth, put in contacts) could stay the same. If you usually sit with your coffee for a few minutes before walking out the door, then continue to do so! Isolate the change to the precise action you are adding.
Motivation will be absolutely necessary to power you through the different stages of forming a new habit. Looking at our motivation to do something includes identifying WHY we are doing it. If we try to start a healthy habit just because someone else told us to, chances are we will not be very successful. Someone else can give us the idea; it’s still important to decide why we personally want to pursue it. After we become personally motivated, it still takes small actions towards the end goal to continue to motivate us through the process. Don’t discredit giving yourself time to think about a habit or planning out how you will teach yourself that habit, even if it means postponing the addition of the actual habit. Some things to remember:
- In the beginning: understand why you are making a change and credit yourself for tiny steps along the way.
- In the middle: Doesn’t feel easy yet? That’s okay! Credit yourself for your progress and enlist friends and supporters (in addition to yourself) to motivate you along the way. Show yourself some grace for brief shortcomings.
- Afterwards: You did it! Maintain your motivation by remembering why you made the change and enjoying whatever benefits it brings you.
- Planning and using a SMART goal
SMART goals have become popular in business management and teaching. They are also incredibly useful in personal goals and starting habits. The acronym SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-contingent. So instead of ‘eating healthier in order to run faster’, a SMART goal would look like: eating more vegetables, at least 3 servings per day, in order to facilitate getting my body in shape to run, assessed weekly every Friday. Then,
- Assess – what happened this week?
- Identify problems and supports – for example: there were no vegetables in the house, I really liked the baked veggie recipe from a friend, 3 servings per day is not likely, etc.
- Adapt – show yourself grace for any unmet criteria and make changes to support success. Buy some resealable bags of veggies (that you like) to have in the house, make that recipe from a friend, change the criteria to at least 2 servings per day.
- Consider personal needs and tendencies
Gretchen Rubin compiled social science data to share in her book “The Four Tendencies” which describes four different approaches different people take when looking at expectations. There is no bad tendency; it’s great to be YOU! Set your habit-forming plan up to work the best for you personally and reap the benefits. The four tendencies include:
- Upholders: clear expectations both internal and external will help you succeed
- Questioners: having science, social support and stats to validate your goal will help you to succeed.
- Obligors: increased commitment to external expectations than internal, so share your habit with a friend or family member to hold you accountable (you could even do it together).
- Rebels: resist all expectations, so focus on your motivators (the whys) and visualize success to help you succeed. (Rubin, 2016)
Starting a healthy habit doesn’t have to be full of pressure or stress. Make it fun, make it meaningful, make it work for you. Take advantage of any and all resources and supports that you can get. Reach out to the CHL today and schedule an appointment with a health coach or dietitian or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor. They can discuss different strategies more in-depth and make a plan that works best for you. No matter what type of healthy habit you want to start or are interested in learning more about, we are here to help you! Appointments are available Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call the CHL at 765-494-0111 or log in to the patient portal to schedule
You are not alone. Be kind to yourself. We are learning and growing everyday towards different versions of ourselves, have fun being an integral part of your own change!
Be Kind. Be Well. Boiler Up!
Author: Amanda Douglas, LLPC, NCC
One to One Health EAP Counselor at the Center for Healthy Living