Habits are behaviours that are repeated over and over again. They are the basis of any lifestyle change we may want to make, maybe in our diet, our activity levels, how much alcohol we drink, improve our sleep or our mental wellbeing. We often want to get rid of a bad habit, create a new one or improve on an existing one.
It can be easy to decide which habit we wish to change, but all too often it can seem impossible to make the shift from the initial momentum of wanting the change, to making it sustainable. And is often the reason so many plans to make change fail. There are some really key fundamentals to remember when you are creating, changing or eliminating a habit, which will not only make it easier but also 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. For example:
Put a picture or note of your ‘why’ on your fridge, bedside table or bathroom mirror
Put a picture or note of your ‘why’ on the home screen of your phone
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:
Put your trainers by the front door, so you have to move them to get out
Buy fruit and veg 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, 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 have treats in the house – 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 are 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:
If you want to start running – put your trainers on and go out the door for five minutes, once a week
If you want to improve your diet – add one vegetable to your lunch or dinner
If you 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 10 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 but 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 a take away or treat, transfer the money you would have spent to a savings account to reward yourself with a massage
Once a habit becomes part of our normal daily routine, it no longer requires much effort or thought to achieve it, it becomes automated. By forming habits and routines, it helps to minimise the number of decisions we need to make each day, which can help to lower our overall stress levels.
Try finding one area of your life you would like to make a change. Apply the tips above to see how you can create change, and how it can help you feel a little more grounded, in control and likely to maintain it.