Most people I know would either like to improve some old habits or create new habits to replace bad ones. They would like to be better partners to their spouses, better parents, better coworkers, and better citizens of the world. They would like to lose weight, have more fun, be more creative, enjoy their work more amongst many other things.
Most people try their best to change their behaviour for the better and work on eliminating bad habits the way they have been taught- by focusing solely on eliminating the bad ones. Unfortunately, the world in which we live today is filled with endless distractions, unhealthy environments, and unlimited opportunities for going astray. At the same time, more than ever before we have access to knowledge, technology, and community support to make changes and create new habits with a different approach.
The reason I want to share this with you today is because of the struggles that I see most of my health coaching clients go through as they try and make and then sustain lifestyle changes. These are things like
- Going off gluten and dairy amongst other foods
- Improving their sleeping habits, for eg. going to bed by 10 pm
- Incorporating good habits for optimal digestion, for eg. chewing food thoroughly, eating without any distractions
- Moving their body on a regular basis by having some kind of regular exercise routine
What I often find with the challenges which my clients face and in my own life is a tendency to blame ourselves when we are not able to sustain these changes. I have often wondered why it is that in spite of having the best of intentions so many of us struggle to make and sustain these changes. There are many books and articles on these and other related topics and I have been greatly inspired by them. I have tried my best to encapsulate the core essence of these amazing resources in this post as well as draw from my own experience as well as that of my clients in my health coaching practice.
Most importantly, my intention is to help cut out the clutter and make it easier for you to focus on a few key areas which can have the maximum impact in terms of helping you create new habits in your life.
In a related post called “Setting SMART goals and building a life you love” I have discussed using a SMART framework for setting the goals so that you can be clear about which areas of your life you want to focus on in terms of making changes. While I am not an expert on these topics, as a coach I have quite a bit of experience now in coaching my own clients to incorporate and sustain healthy habits as they work on their health and wellness goals.
Here are 5 things that you need to know about starting new, healthy habits
1.Take an inventory of your current habit system
You already have a system in place in your life that may or may not be working for you right now. If your system is designed to produce negative, self limiting beliefs and self defeating patterns in your life, you need to become aware of it. In order to create healthy, new habits you need to take a good hard look at where you are in your life right now. As the habits expert James Clear says “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems“.
This means that you need to ask yourself these questions
2. Start small
If you really think about it, the main objective for you in creating new habits will be so that you can transform your life for the better. As you start moving towards your goals, you will soon realise that your life is the sum total of your habits- both good AND bad.
The other thing you would have noticed by now that information by itself is not enough to help you make positive changes and create new habits. If that were true, just by knowing that cigarette smoking may cause lung cancer would be enough of a reason for smokers to give up smoking!
Many of us are under the misconception that people who are able to achieve their goals and sustain healthy habits have much more willpower than we have. But this could not be further from the truth. It is not willpower but the small, incremental changes that we make every single day leading to small regular improvements counts in the long run.
Whether you would like to lose weight, build a new business, write a book, or anything else for that matter, start small. Ask yourself- What is that one small step that I will take today, tomorrow, and every single day after that will help me move towards my goal?
3. Build new habits by stacking them on habits that you already have
It is much easier for us to stick to new habits when we connect them to a habit that we already have. This idea is called habit stacking. As human beings, we all decide what to do next based on what we just finished doing. Habit stacking allows you to take advantage of this aspect of human behaviour.
In real life, it could look like this. You could incorporate a routine of stillness or meditation in the morning by saying “ I am going to sit down for 10 min in silence every day after I have finished brushing my teeth“. By linking it to a current habit that is already well ingrained in your life, you make it easier to incorporate and sustain new habits. For eg. I take out my workout and office clothes after I finish brushing at night. This habit does 2 things for me- I have one less thing to decide and do in the morning AND I am more motivated to exercise when I see my workout clothes in front of me.
4. Design your habits for success
I love the above quote from Stephen King. It means that we do NOT leave it to chance to see if we can create and stick to a new habit. We need to learn how to design our environment so that it sets us up for success. By having obvious visual cues we can leave prompts that help you create and then stick to the new habit.
The example I gave above, is also applicable here since it provides a prompt as a visual cue for me in the morning. Just by having my workout clothes in front of me when I wake up as a visual cue can dramatically increase my chances of working out that day. Indeed, many people I know leave their workout clothes and shoes right next to their bed so that they can see them when they get up in the morning.
5. “Celebrate the small wins”
And last but not the least, ensure that you take out time to celebrate the progress that you are making on a regular basis. We are often so focused on our goals and the end result that we forget to take the time to celebrate what we have achieved irrespective of how big or small it may be. Many of the changes that we are seeking will take time and it is important to find some way to measure and celebrate our progress to keep us going.
One easy way of doing this is to get an empty glass jar and deposit a single bean (or any other small item like a pebble, dried peas etc) every time you take an action and/or complete a task you had set out to do. This makes your progress visual and gives you the impetus to keep you going. Tracking your progress will motivate you to continue on that path to sustain new habits and behavioural change.
Indeed, I use a variation of this in my coaching practice by asking my clients before each and every session this question “What are you celebrating this week?”
In the end, the objective of setting goals and working on healthy habits is NOT to change ourselves or “fix” ourselves. It is simply to remove the obstacles that stand in our way of reaching our true potential and fulfill our dreams. You will find that as you change the way (or the system) you move towards your goals and not just the goals themselves, you start seeing results that are long lasting and meaningful.
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As Aristotle had said
A live online workshop for creating the life that YOU want by setting SMART goals and embracing CHANGE in 2021 and beyond
We will be covering the following topics
-Learning why it is so hard to make sustainable changes
-Understanding the difference between CHANGE and TRANSFORMATION
-Putting it all together and taking the first step towards making changes and creating the life that YOU want