A ROCK SOLID STRATEGY FOR MAKING HEALTHY HABITS STICK
A while back ago I wrote about how it takes around 66 DAYS to make a new habit stick. Why is this important?
Most of us start the New Year with great intentions – to run a 5K, meditate daily, learn a language, cut down on alcohol and so on… (you fill in the gap)
The problem? We tend to rely on our willpower (which is limited) and then give up in the first couple of weeks (before 66 days) when the habit doesn’t stick.
Sound familiar? Today I want to talk about how you can turn your goals into habits THAT STICK.
So much so that they become automatic. So automatic that you stop thinking about them, and they become part of what you do. That’s the real magic, and the good news is that there is a formula for doing so. Here’s how
1. Make it specific
Say your goal is to lose weight. Great! However it’s too vague – and it needs to be measurable. How much? 5kg, 10kg, 5 inches from your waist, or a clothes size you felt good at? Write this down.
Next – you need to turn your break your goal into actionable habits. Ask yourself; what are 3 habits that will help me achieve my goal of xyz…? This leads to point #2
2. Make your habits easy. Nope, easier than that
Your brain decides whether to do something based on how simple it is. Like it or not, we are creatures of habit. You just need to work this to your advantage.
Say you want to meditate for 20 minutes a day. That’s a great goal, but not easy, and you’ll always find a reason you don’t have 20 minutes. So make it smaller. Start with five minutes. Or one minute. Once you’ve cracked that, you step it up.
Think small. Smaller than you know you can do.
Studies show complex habits (50 sit ups) are harder to make habit than easier ones (I will drink a glass of water after breakfast). If your goal is to run a 5k and you think you can do 2k, start with 1k, three times a week.
3. Don’t give up a bad habit – replace it with something better.
You can’t make a habit of NOT doing something –studies show replacing bad habits is much more effective. They key is replace a bad habit with something that gives a similar reward.
Say you want to stop eating chocolate in the afternoon. Ask yourself, what is the trigger for this? If it’s hunger, then you swap the chocolate for a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit with a slick of peanut butter. If it’s an energy dip, try a 5-minute walk. If it’s boredom, maybe you set your alarm for 5 minutes and let yourself read something fun or browse something mindless.
4. Tie each NEW habit to something you to already
In order to carry out a new behaviour, something MUST trigger your brain to think ‘do the new habit!’. Say your goal is to take vitamin D, but you always forget. To remind yourself to do it, you have to anchor it to something you to already – e.g. make a cup of tea, eating breakfast, arriving at work.
Using a situational cue (after breakfast, before lunch, when the alarm goes) is better than using a time, because time needs monitoring (see point 2 – it must be easy).
‘After I set my alarm at bedtime, I will log out of social media’
‘After I make tea, I will do five push-ups’
‘After I brush my teeth, I will mediate for 5 minutes’
‘When I feel like eating chocolate, I will eat an apple instead’
Now write out habits and anchors, so that your intention is clear
5. Plan for the weekend
During the weekend routines vary, which lead habits to ‘‘come unstuck’’. You might have a rock solid routine in the week, but if the same cues aren’t there at the weekend, you’ll forget to carry out the habit. Although one day skipped is ok, twice is dangerous (see #5). If your habits aren’t for the weekend and you return to your routine Monday that’s fine. If not, then make alternate anchors.
6. Don’t break the chain
This is a powerful technique to help you stay on track. Habit is simple about repetition. So the aim is to repeat your habit daily, and not to break the chain. It’s simple and it works.
Pen and paper kinda guy/gal? Print out a calendar and write your habits at the top. Every day you complete the habits, give yourself a tick.
If you prefer digital, try Chains – it’s easy to set up and you can choose the frequency (eg. I want to meditate 5 minutes a day, Monday -Friday – see my example just below).
Alternatively I like the simplicity of the Way of Life app.
Want to learn more?
There are lots of clever scientists who these tips can be attributed to. If you’re interested in reading more, take a look at Brian Fogg’s Tiny Habits programme, or check out this book on Habits.