How to set and keep new habits – with MD Thordis Berger
When it comes to eating well and moving more, most of us know what we ought to do, the problem is actually doing it. How to set and keep new habits in easy steps.
Many of us have a desire to eat much healthier and be more active but it can be difficult to make the necessary changes, particularly ones that will last.
The time it takes to form a new habit can vary widely depending on the behaviour, the person, and the circumstances, between other factors. A lot of variation exists, both among people and among habits – some people are more habit-resistant than others, and some habits are harder to pick up (or give up) than others.
Before starting new habits, think about your real motivation and needs. Bear in mind that habits are responses to needs. This sounds obvious, but countless efforts at habit change ignore its implications. If you eat badly, you might resolve to start eating well, but if you're eating chocolate to feel comforted and happy, trying to replace them with carrots will not help. In this case, what's required isn't a better diet, but an alternative way to feel comforted and relaxed.
The following steps are based upon results from behavioural psychology research and explain what it takes to start new habits:
Step 1: Choose a Habit That’s Incredibly Easy to Start
To create a new habit, you must first simplify the behaviour. Make it tiny, even ridiculous. A good tiny behaviour is easy to do – and fast.
Example: Walk 3 minutes or do 2 push-ups
In the beginning, performance doesn’t matter. You can build up to the level of performance that you want once the behaviour becomes consistent.
Step 2: Integrate it in your routine
Find an existing routine to be your reminder for the new tiny behaviour.
For example, let’s say you want to build a new habit of doing 10 push-ups each day at lunchtime. You might start by choosing a time-based trigger and saying something like, “During my lunch break each day, I’ll do 10 push-ups.” This might work, but it’s not very specific.
Alternatively, you could create a trigger around a very specific preceding event that happens right around your lunch break. For example, “When I close my laptop to leave for lunch, I’ll do 10 push-ups.” In this case, the very specific action of “closing the laptop” is a perfect trigger for what to do next (your 10 push-ups). There is no mistaking when you should do the new habit.
Step 3: Train the cycle
Focus on doing the little new behaviour as part of your routine- every day, or as much as possible. Keep the behaviour simple until it becomes a solid habit. It’s important to remember that lasting change is a product of daily habits, not once–in–a–lifetime transformations.
The idea that when forming a new habit, you can't miss a day or all is lost is just another myth. Missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour does not materially affect the habit formation process. In other words, building better habits is not an all-or-nothing process.
Last but not least, don´t forget to celebrate. It’s especially important that you reward yourself each time you practice your new habit.
How to set and keep new habits – with MD Thordis Berger
One of the biggest problems with becoming more active and set up new goals is that there are lots of distractions in our life – we’re busy, time is limited and we have established habits that are very hard to break.
So, what can we do to help ourselves achieve these new goals?
We are all busy, so make smaller, easier changes that can easily fit into your existing lives. This way, there is a much higher chance of forming new habits which had the potential to last.
Do not try to change too many things (habits) at once, which can only lead to disappointment.
When you try to create too many habits at once (i.e. eliminate sugar, workout every day, etc.), you drastically reduce your chances of sticking to new healthy habits and changes.
Instead, Start Small.
Start by making small changes and implementing just 1 or 2 habits at a time. They should be so incredibly simple that they almost feel too easy...
For example, some easy changes to increase physical activity at your workplace are:
- Take the stairs, not the lift. Believe it or not, stair climbing can burn more calories than jogging,
- Walk to see colleagues instead of emailing them.
- Park further away from the office, get off the bus a stop early or find a longer route to walk to work.
- Go for a lunchtime stroll, or buy lunch further away so that you have to walk.
- Have walking meetings instead of sitting in a meeting room.
- Try walking around or standing when making or taking phone calls.
Furthermore, you should create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals, for example: going to the gym for 30 minutes twice in the next week or increasing their daily step count by a few thousand steps.
Motivation is another very important factor. You need it to have the external and internal drive to accomplish your new goals. But motivation is fleeting, especially when we are stressed, tired, or bored etc…For this reason, accountability is a powerful tool. Essentially, accountability keeps you consistent by having you report back to someone (or yourself) what you’re successfully–or unsuccessfully–doing with your diet and exercise regimen. You can create a sort of dairy or chart that allows you to keep track of habits and to see how you have been progressing toward your new goals. There are a ton of things that you can put in your habit tracker to help you stay on the right path toward your new goals or simply observe your current patterns (for example Water consumption, Caloric intake, No soda (coffee/alcohol/junk food/etc), Exercise, etc).
You can also automatically track your steps using a pedometer, your smartphone, or a fitness tracker. It’s amazing how many steps you’ll add if you choose the stairs instead of the elevator and take a 25-minute walk at lunchtime or after dinner.
Connect with others. Whether you prefer being a competition winner or a team player, social involvement and shared targets will provide better motivation than going it alone.
The majority of exercises offer opportunities for sociability, which serves as an incentive for continued participation.
Find what's fun and joyful for you.
Instead of making exercise a chore, do what makes you happy. This can be for example a twice-weekly dance class at the gym. You should find something that is fun, and that motivates you to show up each time!
Find out more M.D. Thordis Berger articles in our Medical section.