We all know from our personal experience, that some habits are easy to begin. Others, not-so-much. For instance, it's far easier to get hooked on a TV show than it is is to set-up a daily exercise regimen. Why is that? We are learning from research that how long it takes the new habit to form depends on the strength of the old habit. If you're an avid TV watcher, getting "hooked" on a new show will be a piece of cake. The same holds true in the reverse. If you've never been much into physical activity, then creating a new exercise habit will be far more difficult to make stick. But, if you've already formed a once-a-week gym habit, then adding a second day will be much easier. The experts recommend that instead of focusing on specific goals...drinking less coffee or going for that daily walk....take the habit formation process one day at a time. Using these key strategies will help, as well.
1. When setting a new habit, it's easy to think in terms of sweeping goals, like becoming more organized or never drinking coffee past 10 a.m. But habits are repeated behaviors. So it makes sense, and is much easier, if you set smaller, more defined goals. "I won't drink that extra cup of coffee on Mondays and Wednesdays." or "I will become more organized by doing the dishes after every meal." These smaller goals will actually work because they are more concrete. And you can actually see the progress sooner.
2. Think about the logistical and mental barriers that are preventing your new habit from sticking. Think about the ways you can overcome any obstacles that are impeding your progress. Can't seem to give up that extra cup of Joe? How about getting a little extra sleep each night so you aren't as droopy in the afternoon? Want to eat healthier but don't have the time to cook a fresh meal every evening? You might consider signing up for a meal delivery service or spending a weekend afternoon preparing meals for the coming week. Instead of getting frustrated with yourself, think of clever ways to overcome the hurdles. This will make the habit-forming process easier.
3. It's always easier to stick with your goals when you are being held accountable. Find yourself an accountability partner who can help you work towards your goals. It's much easier to take that morning walk than it is to disappoint a friend. Having a partner in your efforts can make a huge difference.
4. Using reminders can go along way towards keeping you on-track. Remember that creating new habits can often mean letting go of old ones. Use post-it notes, cell phone reminders, or even have a friend call you...any tool that will help you form your new habit. If you're trying to unlearn bad behaviors, using mental (or internal) reminders work well. When you find yourself caught in the trap of unhealthy thought processes, choose a mantra or positive affirmation to help counteract those negative thoughts. Then say that every time your negative thinking gets in the way.
5. Remember, too, that it takes time to learn...and unlearn...behaviors. It's important to remember not to beat yourself up when you lose a little ground. Pat yourself on the back when you do good and gently give yourself a pep talk when you don't.
There's no reason to wait until the New Year to begin making the changes you want. Any day is a good day to toss out those unnecessary and destructive bad habits and begin replacing them with ones that will make you feel better and lead a happier, less stressful life.
Now, I've really got to get better at washing my dishes....and now's the perfect time to start!