A habit can be defined as an action you do frequently and automatically. It’s an acquired behavior, something that you do regularly and often enough that you start to do it without thinking about it. Some are good habits, like brushing your teeth before bed; others can be bad, such as picking your nose.
By now, many of us have already given up on our New Year’s Resolutions. For some of us, it’s because we just couldn’t get into the habit of doing a new thing. For others, we couldn’t break an old habit. Today we’re going to focus on how you can form good, healthy habits in an effective way.
Step #1: Identify a clear goal- what is it that you are actually trying to accomplish?
One thing that causes us to fail in forming habits is not having a good goal. If you say your goal is to exercise more, it’s probably not going to happen. But let’s say your goal is to lose 10 lbs. Great- now you can then work to establish habits in an effort to reach that goal, such as exercising more or changing your diet. Figure out what your goal is, then think about what steps you can take to reach that goal. Those steps are what you need to focus on to develop new habits.
Step #2: Start small, then get bigger.
Let’s say your goal is to run your first 5k. Trying to form a habit of running 3 miles every day doesn’t make any sense. But making the habit of committing to the act of training will work much better. Start with dedicating 5 minutes a day to stretching and do that for a week or two. When that starts to feel “normal” to you, add 5 minutes of basic strengthening exercises for a couple of weeks. Then when you feel stronger and more confident, add 5 minutes of light jogging. Continue to scale up with your continued success, and the next thing you know, you’ll be reaching your goal and running a 5k! But remember the 5k was the goal, and the habit was the behavior that was needed to reach that goal.
Step #3: Set up your “Cue, Action, and Reward”
Cues are the prompts that trigger you to do the Action you are trying to make a habit of. An easy way to start a new habit is to pair it with something you already do automatically. For example, if you have coffee every morning when you wake up, use that as your cue to spend the next 5 minutes stretching while you sip your coffee. Or it may help to create a new external cue for yourself- Always eat lunch at your desk at work? Set an alarm on your phone for the middle of your lunch break and use that as your cue to stretch and go for a walk until your break is over.
Rewards work best when they are small, immediate, and designed to reinforce the activity each time you do it. If you like watching NCIS for example, make that your reward! Set your cue to trigger your action prior to the start of the show, allowing enough time to get the action done. Right about when you’ve had enough of the activity, boom- your show is on. Now you can enjoy it without feeling guilty about just sitting there for an hour. Pretty soon you’ll find you can’t watch the show without doing a little exercising beforehand, because you’ve tied those two behaviors together. (And don’t worry, tomorrow is NCIS: Los Angeles, they day after that is NCIS: New Orleans, and then for the rest of the week there’s always reruns on some channel!)
Habits don’t necessarily have to be done every single day. If your cues happen during the work week but not on the weekends, don’t beat yourself up if you forget to stretch on a Saturday. If something interferes with your habit on one day, it’s not a failure. Shift your focus to how you’re going to resume the habit the next day instead. Life will get in the way sometimes, and that’s ok. The important thing is how you react to it.
Step #4: Cut yourself a little slack!
If you’re looking to start a new healthy habit but can’t decide on exactly what you want to do, join Dr. Scott at 6pm on February 12th as he will be going over a concise routine of stretches and exercises that will be a great launching point for any health driven goal! Click here to sign up today!