The best way to improve our mental health is to improve our sleep, diet or exercise habits and routines. The catch is that it’s not always easy to form better habits around these things. Have you ever said to yourself “Why can’t I stick to my new running routine, or I keep saying I won’t look at my phone before bed” but still do. We often say these things to ourselves but struggle to implement change. Research shows there are a couple of reasons for this. Many of us start with a big goal – like giving up smoking cold turkey, without breaking it down into smaller steps that make us feel like we are heading towards success. Here are some tips for breaking down your goal:
1. Try attaching a new habit to an existing one. This is called ‘habit stacking’. Find a well-established habit in your daily routine and put your new habit before or after it. For example, try putting your new habit for a morning walk before your old habit of having a morning coffee.
2. Start small. Big behaviour changes require a high level of motivation that can be difficult to sustain. Starting with a smaller habit and building on it can be more motivating. For example, starting with a 20-minute morning walk and increasing it by 5 minutes a week/day until it gets to 40 minutes.
3. Do it more often. Research shows that the successful formation of a new habit relies on frequency – the more you do it the more likely it is to stick. For a habit to become automatic it takes an average time of 66 days.
4. Make it easy. If your new habit is easy to do you will be more likely to engage with the habit. If you leave your walking shoes by the door where you can see them, it will make it easier for you to go for a walk and you will be more likely to do it.
5. Reward yourself. Immediate rewards are an important ingredient for behaviour change so try building in a reward to your new routine, like listening to a favourite podcast or new audiobook on the treadmill.
6. Do it with someone. Doing healthy activities with others strengthens our social wellbeing and a little friendly competition can make it more fun and motivating.