Habits, they can be sneaky and emerge without our permission. Good habits and not-so-good habits. You stop by a fast food restaurant a few times a month, and then before you know it, it's once a week and then twice a week — and well, now it's officially a habit.
How much of our behavior comes from habits? About 45%, which of course is a welcomed number for our good habits. And, with unwelcome habits, it's kind of a scary number.
It took me a very long time (I was in my late 40s) to begin to understand and grasp how much power habits had over my life. I wasn't even aware that I had these bad habits until I began to have health issues and reflect on my lifestyle. Three years later, it's clear to me that many habits had crept into my life without me even knowing or welcoming them. Some of these unwelcome habits included:
• the absence of fruits and veggies in my diet
• inconsistent fitness and movement
• oversized portions
• unbalanced meals (macronutrients and micronutrients)
• an abundance of refined sugar
• skipping breakfast
• mindless eating (boredom, anxiety, comfort. etc.)
The habits above created the perfect storm of health issues and a shortage of energy and enthusiasm. The more I tried to ignore these sneaky habits and keep doing what i was doing, the more lethargic and uncomfortable I became.
So, how do we change and create new habits?
1. Accept (and embrace) that you have habits to change! There is nothing to be embarrassed about here. We're human and we're imperfect. I think this step is kind of exciting, as it sets you free to acknowledge that you're going to change and create new habits.
2. One habit at a time. Many of us will decide to tackle a few habit changes at a time, and while that is an admirable goal, it can be overwhelming. When I began, I started with eating smaller portions, adding in more veggies and fruit, eating breakfast, and working out at least 30 mins/day, 6 days/week. In hindsight, that was likely too many habits to incorporate all at once. I was able to manage them all, but there were times I felt a little overwhelmed by all these changes happening simultaneously. With the clients that I coach now, we begin on a much smaller, more manageable scale and focus on one habit change at a time. Its important to note that habits generally take time and repetition to become a habit. The research varies on the exact amount of time, but many agree that it takes at least 66 days to form a habit. Patience is key.
3. Commit to it with everything you got and have a plan. There have been many times in my life that I would wake up one morning and have it in my head that today was the day I would change my habits. Yup, I'm gonna eat better, and get to the gym and work out for 90 minutes. I had awesome intentions, but really no plan and certainly had not committed to the idea of changing my life with 100% of my being. When I began 3 years ago, I had a plan in place with goals, and was undeniably determined and committed to changing the trajectory of my life.
4. Support & accountability. This can come from a variety of places, and with social media, our support systems can go beyond our immediate friends and family. When I began 3 years ago, I joined a few different virtual challenge groups for accountability and motivation, as well as a few Facebook fitness and nutrition pages. I am also lucky to have a super supportive partner, who deserves a great deal of the credit for helping me to change and create new habits these last three years. Another form of support is to hire a nutrition and/or fitness coach. We're here to support you, be your cheerleader, motivator, guide, and to help you be successful in reaching your goals.
5. Record your progress. This was a critical piece for me in changing and developing new habits for the long term. I bought myself a journal, added some motivational stickers to the front cover, and wrote down some little goals and some bigger goals. I then recorded (every day) what workout I accomplished that day, any milestones from that workout (i.e.: held a side plank for 20 seconds), what I ate that day, and any other salient observations. I also recorded my progress virtually when I began cycling again, and then also included running and swimming. I use STRAVA to record the three aforementioned sports, as well as the strength and core work I do. I love watching the mileage increase, the pace improve, and the swim interval times decrease — it's very motivating for me.
6. Anticipate obstacles. Changing habits can be complex and will present us with hurdles and unknowns. There will be situations that will challenge us and the progress we have made. For example, I love french fries — all kinds of french fries. When I go out to a restaurant, I will always ask if I can substitute the fries with a vegetable or salad, and then steal a few fries off of my partner's plate instead. If I'm at a party and there are lots of finger foods, I will grab veggies from the veggie plate and avoid plates with crackers, cheese, chips, candy, etc. There can also be obstacles around fitness and working out. Life simply gets in the way. What I've found to work for me is that I know I have one rest day/week and so I have to make time to work out the other 6 days. Some times this means splitting a workout into different parts of the day or waking up earlier to get the workout in or getting creative with a workout and adapting it to the setting I'm in on that particular day.
7. Quitting after failure. We're human and we fail. Instead of quitting, I look at failure as a way to learn and (hopefully) not repeat the behavior or action again. During the last 3 years there have been many instances of a few steps forward and several steps back. In the past, I would have let failure dictate my progress and would have given up. When I began 3 years ago, my lens was strikingly different then before. I was 100% in, very determined, and had a plan in hand — and I believe that these mindset changes made all the difference in overcoming obstacles, failure, and disappointment.
8. Consistency. The goal in changing and creating new habits is repetition, and consistency aides in generating repetition. Prior to committing to working out 6 days/week, I never really had a plan for working out before. The first few weeks of working out 6 days were difficult and exhausting. There may have even been some explicatives involved. Did I question this new plan of mine during those initial weeks? You bet. But as the weeks progressed and I developed this new habit, I began to have less doubt. Three years later, I'm still working out 6 days a week. It has become part of my life's template. Are there weeks when I don't feel like working out that many days? Occasionally. And, I still work out. It's a habit I have come to love, appreciate, and look forward to.
What do YOU do now? Take action, and be patient with yourself. Our habits become familiar and even comfortable — even though some of our habits may not be productive for our health and well being.
I'm excited to support you in changing and creating new habits. I can tell you first-hand that it's undeniably gratifying when you realize that you have created a new habit and it's sticking to you like glue. Let's get started together so we can change your life one habit at a time. Email me here.
Check out this weeks move of the week video: Plank Shoulder Taps to Pike Toe Taps