Happy New Year lovely readers. I hope you are well and have arrived in 2023 with gratitude and positivity for what the year holds in store for you.
It’s January so I thought I’d write a blog about habit change. Habit change is hard! I wrote a good blog on New Years’s Resolutions this time last year – take a look at it here. This year I want to focus on how we can make habit change easier. Habit change includes introducing new habits (good ones!) and breaking habits that we no longer want in our lives (bad habits!).
Most New Year Resolutions fail. So what can we do to ensure our desired habit change is successful? Here are 4 things you can focus on.
- MANAGE YOUR STRESS. If you are stressed than habit change becomes even harder. Stress tends to drive us towards the habits we want to break and away from the habits we want to introduce in our lives. Stress is our puppet master! Stress steals our will power – more on will power in a moment. So whilst I am not going to write here about stress management tools – you can read my article on stress here , I am going to suggest that you make sleep a priority because if you sleep well then it is likely that you cope with the inevitable stress in your life much better than if you don’t sleep well. If you want to improve your health and have decided to cut sugar out of your diet, then good sleep will help you do this. Good sleep means more of the hormone leptin and less of the hormone grehlin. Leptin helps to regulate appetite and therefore supports a healthy weight, while grehlin is our our hunger hormone. Poor sleep leads to hunger and poor food choices. Poor sleep plus a stressful day at work is unlikely to help you choose exercise, a healthy evening meal and an early night is it?
- KNOW YOUR CUES. Cues are triggers for the many habits that make up our day. A famous example is that of tooth flossing. I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth, something I have done since I was a child, and this habit acts as a cue to floss my teeth after brushing them. Another example could be that when you go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea you automatically reach for the biscuit tin and grab a couple of biscuits. If you want to break the biscuit eating habit, then you need to understand the cue or trigger- is the cue the act of making the tea or is it the sight of the biscuit tin? Could you make a different drink or do you need to move the biscuit tin? If you want to break a habit then you need to change the cue or get rid of it and if you want to start a new habit then you need to add a cue. Say you want to start going for a walk every morning before work, breakfast, or the day gets going, then having a cue /reminder will help you do this. You could leave your walking shoes by the front door or you could leave yourself a note on the fridge door. Ask yourself “are you going for the walk you promised yourself ” Am I going going to walk this morning?” Asking yourself a direct question can be really useful. Try it? What does it feel like to say No? You still have to practice consistency even with a cue. If you don’t follow up on the cue, don’t beat yourself up, just reflect on why you didn’t, move on and try again the next day. Maybe you need to change the cue or maybe the habit isn’t in alignment with your values? More on this in a moment.
- DON’T FOCUS ON STOPPING BAD HABITS. Focus on BREAKING bad habits. There is a difference. Science has shown us that it is almost impossible to get rid of a bad habit totally – the habit is still programmed in to our brains. Focussing too much on stopping something means we are more likely to rebound – giving up chocolate for Lent or going on a restrictive diet are both good examples of this. We can, however, break the habit. Stopping a bad habit involves lots of will power and will power is a finite resource. Willpower is like a muscle- if you work it hard, it gets tired. If you rely on will power to change your habits then you will likely fail. Willpower just isn’t enough. We have to make it easy to break the habit. Think about what you can replace the bad habit with and then focus on the new good habit. Focus on the behaviour you want to replace the bad habit with. For example, if you want to give up that glass of wine you have when you get in after work or when you are prepping your evening meal, then don’t just give up the win, replace it with a delicious non-alcoholic drink. And maybe drink that drink out of a wine glass so you get the same sensation of holding a glass. Focus on the taste of the new drink and how it is benefitting you. Plan to try a few new drinks. Make it interesting.
- IDENTIFY YOUR REASONS FOR STARTING A NEW HABIT OR BREAKING AN EXISTING HABIT. This is so important. Without a clear idea of WHY you are making the change, then change won’t happen. Equally important is the fact that your WHY must be in alignment with your values. Your values are basically who you are and who you want to identify as. So spend some time thinking about this. If like me you are in your late 50’s then you may well be focused on where you want to be in terms of your health in 10 years time. Personally, I want to be fit, strong, and active. I want to be enjoying life; working and travelling. I want to be able to enjoy my food and wine. I want good brain health. To achieve this, I must set myself action steps and goals that will help me be in this state of health in 10 years time so while I am planning to reduce my wine consumption post Christmas and New Year, I do not intend to give it up for a month. I would really struggle to do this because it is not in alignment with my values. Whereas, starting a habit of running twice a week (I have let my cardio vascular fitness lapse over the last 6 months) is totally in alignment with my values and while still challenging, it won’t be as hard for me as giving up wine would be. Your values might be completely different. Your values maybe focussed on grandchildren for example. If this is the case then work out how you want to be for them and then identify where you have to make changes in order be that person. Research shows us that shallow values that revolve around how we look don’t tend to be good enough reasons for the new habit to be sustainable. You go on a restrictive diet for 3 months because you’re going on holiday/going to a wedding etc Even if you succeed for 3 months, what happens next? I think we all know the answer to that!
Forming a new habit takes time. How long will depend on the habit and will depend on you. We are all different and as already mentioned factors like stress play their role. If you are struggling to change lifestyle habits which you know are detrimental to your health, then this is where a health coach can help. A health coach is your accountability partner but won’t just hold you accountable. She will also help you work out exactly what your values are and whether your reasons for making certain changes to your lifestyle are in alignment with these values. You may also need support with sleep and stress levels or emotional eating which all impact your health today and your ability to make changes.