What are habits? In simple terms, they are behaviours that we repeat over and over again. They form the basis of any lifestyle change that we may want to make, such as improving our diet, upping our activity levels, decreasing our alcohol consumption, or even improving our sleep. When it comes to making these changes, we usually want to get rid of a bad habit, create a new one or improve on an existing one.
It’s usually pretty easy to decide which habits we want to change, but all too often it seems impossible to make the shift from the initial momentum of wanting the change, to actually making it stick. So, we generally just give up on the idea altogether. Here are some fundamentals to keep in mind the next time you want to create, change or eliminate a habit. Following these key steps will not only make the process easier but it will also make sure the change is sustainable.
1. Remember your ‘why’ – always keep front and centre why are you wanting to make a change. This is great motivation for when you are tempted to do the habit you are trying to change or not do the habit you are trying to create. Put a picture or note of your ‘why’ on your fridge, bedside table, bathroom mirror, or on the home screen of your phone to make sure you have a consistent reminder.
2. Make it obvious – keep your new habit in your sight to remind you to do it. It’s harder to avoid if it stares at you. For example:
- Trying to move more? Put your trainers by the door so that you have to move them to get out.
- Trying to eat healthier? Buy fruit and veggies and keep it on your counter top or visible in your fridge
3. Make the new habit as easy as possible – remove any friction, we are aiming for automation here, if possible (think Netflix automatically playing the next episode in a box set, they have removed the need to do anything to continue the binge watch). For example:
- Lay out your workout clothes the night before and put them on as soon as you get out of bed
- Take your lunch and snacks to work so you are not tempted to buy treats/food out
4. Make the old habit as hard as possible – create as much friction as possible against slipping back into the old habit. For example:
- Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room so you have to get up to turn it off and less likely to hit snooze
- Don’t keep treats in the house, then if you get a craving, you actually have to make the effort to go out and buy them
5. Keep it simple – we have all had great ambitions of trying to overhaul our lives with massive changes (think New Year Resolutions). They stick for a while, if we’re lucky, but life gets in the way and it all unravels quickly. So, keep the habit change very simple and easy to do. For example:
- Want to start running? Put your trainers on and go out the door for five minutes, once a week
- Want to improve your diet? Add one vegetable to your lunch or dinner
- Want to improve your sleep? Go to bed five minutes earlier
6. Stack it – once you have created a new habit, by making it simple and easy, add to it with another simple and easy progression. Keep going like this until you have created a full-scale lifestyle change. For example:
- Put your trainers on and go out the door for five minutes, twice a week, then three times a week, then start increasing the five minutes to ten minutes, etc.
- Add one vegetable to lunch and dinner, then perhaps make one change to your breakfast, remove one soft drink a day, add a piece of fruit to your morning etc.
- Go to bed another five minutes earlier, then another five, and another, etc.
7. Track it – keep a log of how long you have kept the streak up. You can use an app, a spreadsheet or a simple tick sheet on your fridge door. This will help you maintain the habit and also remind you of how far you have come.
8. Reward it – give yourself a reward for doing the new habit (or not doing the habit you want to change). For example:
- Each time you go out for a run, transfer $10 into a savings account to reward yourself with a new pair of trainers
- Each time you don’t have takeaway or a treat, transfer the money you would have spent to a savings account to reward yourself with a massage
Once a habit becomes part of your normal daily routine, it no longer requires much effort or thought to achieve it, it becomes automated. Try finding one area of your life you would like to make a change and apply the tips above to see how you can create positive long-lasting change.
Looking for inspiration try our Wellness Challenges.