Happy Valentine’s Day! With all the hearts popping up all over the place, it made me think about and how important it is that we take good care of our hearts, physically and emotionally. In that spirit, here are some thoughts about successfully starting new healthy habits.
Get healthy! Drink lots of water! Eat a colorful diet! Stay away from processed everything and sugar! Exercise regularly! Get tons of sleep! Meditate! DO ALL THESE THINGS!
We all want to get healthier. Many of us struggle. I’m 100% sure this is true; weight-loss, diet, and ‘healthy’ products and services wouldn’t be such a big business if not. What we have here is a “simple, but not easy” situation. We all know pretty much what needs to be done, but, if you’re anything like me, you have a hard time actually doing it. This seems to be due, in part, to our habits. We have built bad habits over time, and breaking those habits is no easy task!
5 Must Do’s for Building Habits
I’ve done some reading and research on habit building (there’s a lot out there). The Power of Habit is a good book to start with, as is the Zen Habits blog (especially this post: The Four Habits that Form Habits). There are a number of approaches that people advocate, but almost all of them have common elements. Here is a collection of the best do’s for starting new habits:
1. Start small: It is extremely helpful and motivating to have success when building a new habit. If you want to build a new habit to exercise AN HOUR EVERY DAY, and right now you exercise NEVER, you are going to have a tough time. The behavioral shift required to make that kind of change is significant, and there is a high probability that you will not succeed, leaving you feeling frustrated and like a failure, which is likely to get in the way of your future efforts. Start SO SMALL that it seems ridiculous. Remember, your goal is not to become an ultramarathoner at this point, it is to build a habit of exercising. You can increase your habits once they are established.
2. Start with one: It may be tempting to go whole hog and try to adopt a dozen new habits (maybe that whole list at the beginning of this post). This presents a similar problem as the “too big” habits; it takes a tremendous level of effort to change behaviors in meaningful ways, so
3. Enjoy doing it: Your new habit will never stick if you hate it. Duh. Be sure to pick something you can find enjoyment it. It may take some time to inherently enjoy the habit, sure, but if you are being mindful, it should be fairly easy for you to recognize and value the experience for what it is. At the very least, try to adopt feelings of gratitude for the opportunity to do something kind to your body and mind.
4. Be patient: It is easy to get all amped up about changing your life (New Year’s Resolutions, anybody?) From James Clear:
Learning to be patient is perhaps the most critical skill of all. You can make incredible progress if you are consistent and patient.
New habits should feel easy, especially in the beginning. If you stay consistent and continue increasing your habit it will get hard enough, fast enough. It always does.
5. Forgive your mistakes: There is a high likelihood that, even if you do the four things above correctly, you may still slip. That’s ok. If this were easy, we’d all do it without problem and wouldn’t need trainers, coaches, diet books. I strongly believe a significant part of adopting a healthy lifestyle is being kind to yourself. If you beat yourself up for failing, you’re not serving a healthier you. Acknowledge your miss, hold yourself accountable, then get back to it! The resilience you develop by coming back from a failure is going to make you that much stronger (and healthier) in the long run. Think about how you would talk to a dear friend who slipped up; is that how you are talking to yourself? Probably not. Shift that. Be kind.
Suggested Small Habits
So where to start? Here are a few tiny habits that you could consider starting with:
- Drink a glass of water each day.
- Go for a 5 minute walk each day.
- Take a multivitamin each day.
- Meditate 5 minutes each day (there are lots of apps for this)
- Eat one piece of fruit each day.
Maybe one of these resonates with you, but maybe not. Only you know what the right one, tiny, enjoyable new habit is for you. I’m doing my best to follow this advice myself. I’m VERY guilty of taking on too many too big habits at once and then beating myself up for failing them. I know better, and I just need to follow the advice I’ve outlined here. Here’s to a better approach to improving our health!