Habits get so much attention these days and it seems like everyone is talking about breaking the bad habits and creating new ones.
I’ve tried to stay true to the philosophy of building sustainable and healthy lifestyle practices and habits, but after listening to a recent podcast all about habits, I decided to dig a little bit deeper and wanted to share some of my biggest take-aways.
WHAT IS A HABIT?
Although several definitions exist, there are a few that are especially relevant to my interest and I love Dictionary.com’s first definition
“an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”
Ex – The habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.
You see, habits are not instincts – we’re not born with them. They are behaviors that are developed and we have the power to develop them to the point where we can do them without even thinking about it – good and bad.
HOW DO HABITS START TO CHANGE?
Awareness is the first step in developing a habit. You must be aware that you are doing (or not doing) something in order to begin the process of change.
Once you become of aware of your actions or disposition, etc. you can start to modify.
Modification of a behavior is a CHOICE. Once again, your awareness leads to CHOICE.
(For the purposes of this blog, we will exclude habits that include physical and/or chemical dependency. This brings on a whole new layer that’s beyond the scope of this writing.)
HOW DO I CREATE A NEW HABIT (OR STOP A POOR HABIT)?
Whether you are starting a new healthy habit or looking to stop an unhealthy one, the process is the same. For a simplified example, take a look below:
“I will stop eating junk food.”
“I will make healthy food choices. “
Both examples are essentially saying the same thing. The difference is whether you prefer to think of it as stopping an old habit or starting a new one. So let’s dive in to see how to start the process.
1.) Decide on which behavior you would like to modify.
What is something that you wish you could change? Is it your eating habits? Your exercise plan? Do you enjoy reading, but never find the time to do it? Think about 1 area that you would like to change.
Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of “I don’t have time” or “That’s beyond my control.” Pick your area and make a decision that you can and will change this.
2.) Look at where you’re starting and where you’d eventually like to be.
You have to be able to visualize your future and see how changing this habit will change your life. Let’s start with “I will make healthy food choices.” (We’ll continue to tweak this, but this is our starting point.)
What do healthy food choices look like for you? Will you be able to eliminate certain medications? Will you be able to move without pain? Lose excess weight? Have more energy? Be more engaged with your family? Visualize and note HOW modifying this habit will make your life better.
3.) Determine how you personally respond to internal and external demands.
Do you perform better with internal or external demands or do you perform the same for both? Here’s an example of someone who performs well with internal demands.
“I enjoy reading. I am very busy but I make time to read 1 book every month.”
Here’s an example of someone who performs best with external demands.
“I am a police officer and my job requires that I can run 1 mile in 8 minutes. I have a fitness assessment coming up in 3 months so I am training to be a faster runner and beat the 8 minute requirement.”
The third option is someone who values internal and external demands the same and either example would work for them.
In general, women tend to perform better for external demands, which means that our internal desires move lower and lower on the list of priorities. This is OK, we can still make a habit change but we may need some additional assistance!
4.) Develop a plan.
I could write an entire series of blogs on this one, but we’ll keep it short and sweet to start here. The quick way of saying this is that you need a plan with measureable items in order to determine if you’re on track. Without a plan you’re simply reacting. Developing new habits and changing old ones can be challenging – be proactive, not reactive.
Once you determine whether you perform better with internal or external demands as discussed in #3 we can really start to progress with a plan.
If you respond better to internal demands, begin to create measureable milestones in your plan. For example:
“I will make healthy food choices by planning out 5 nutritious meals per week and preparing them at home.”
Based on the above example, we can measure how we are progressing on developing our new habit. We know we are falling short if we are preparing less than 5 nutritious meals at home and we can further modify this behavior as needed. In general, those that are internally motivated tend to perform as planned as the internal motivation is the exact same thing as a deadline at work. “It has to get done…”
If you respond better to external demands, you have lots of options, but an accountability factor is a necessary addition as well as the way to measure your progress.
Here are a few quick examples from above.
“I enjoy reading, but I feel like I have no time to read. I will join a book club that meets regularly. This will require that I make time to read.”
“I want to make healthy food choices, but I often feel confused. I will meet with a health coach 2 times per month to help me plan meals that fit my lifestyle.”
“I want to start running but I get bored so easily. My friend and I will sign up with for a race now that will take place in 2 months. We will train together for this race by running 2 times per week together.”
The beauty of developing a habit is that its now set – you don’t have to think about it – you just do it. This frees up a lot of brain power and a lot of energy. Treat yourself to this freedom! You deserve it!
Stay tuned for upcoming blogs that dive even deeper into my research about habits. What is a habit that you’re looking to change? Are you somebody who performs better with internal or external motivation? We’d love to hear from you!
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the habit that you’ve decided to create or change.
Looking for some accountability and help with external motivation? Schedule a complimentary call with us at email@example.com. We have all sorts of techniques to help you succeed!
Live your WHOLE life,
Meg + Shannon