So it’s that time of year where people are dreaming of a different life.
“This year things will be different.” “I’ll get fitter”, “I’ll lose weight”,
“I’ll pay off my credit card”.
Every year millions of people make and break promises to themselves… right about now, great intentions that they fail to implement. Ever wonder why this behaviour is so predictable?
Did you know you have a “habit centre” in your brain? It’s called the basal ganglia. It’s this centre that helps you keep doing what you have always done… and it’s this centre that can help you do things differently.
Your brain is great at learning new habits as well as operating on autopilot. You can use this ability to your advantage or ignore it to your detriment.
So, the way to make this year different and to actually do what you intend to do involves strategically creating a few new habits.
In other words, change the way you set your goal, intention or New Year’s resolution.
If you change your daily habits, it is much easier to make health and weight loss an easy and automatic part of everyday life.
So instead of setting a general goal like: “Get Fit” or “Lose weight”, set yourself three small new habits that you know will facilitate that outcome. Once you have those it is easy to set an implementation strategy to create just three new small but powerful habits.
For example, here are 7 habits of the effortlessly slim or successfully fit, you could choose to adopt just three (that are known to make a difference) as your habits:
1. They don’t eat in front of the TV or have lunch at their desk.
2. They eat to nourish, and will often have something healthy to start their day everyday for breakfast, and salad, soup or a home packed lunch 5 out of 7 days for lunch, and they will usually eat take out a maximum of twice a week.
3. They eat slowly.
4. They use herbal tea, fruit and nuts as their snack foods, not chocolate, doughnuts, chips, cheese and crackers and soft drinks. You won’t find a secret stash of biscuits or chocolate in their desk drawer, and they seldom drink more than 2 coffees a day. Because they don’t overdo stimulants, they don’t need stimulants to get through their day.
5. They eat 3 times a day and often don’t finish everything on their plate. In other words, they don’t skip meals, and they don’t overeat.
6. They sleep 6 to 9 hours a night.
7. They like moving their body, it isn’t a chore, it’s their reward, their “me time” or what they use to get their frustrations out and burn off excess stress, and it’s part of their weekly routine.
The next step, once you have decided on the habits you would like to embrace as your own (you can choose from above or create your own) is to set up an implementation strategy.
Habit Change Formula:
But first here’s three things you need to know about creating habits:
1. You’ll need a Trigger: You need help remembering to take the first step, to do the new behaviour.
2. Repeatability, the new behaviour has to be easy to repeat: Whatever you decided to do, needs to be chunked down into steps that are easy to do, or at least easy to start and fit into your existing routine.
3. The new behaviour needs to be Reinforcing in some way: There needs to be a reward or immediate benefit or positive feeling associated with the activity. Think of how you will celebrate every time you do the behaviour, even if it is just by saying: “I’m awesome! I did it! Yeah!” and giving yourself a pat on the back or ticking something off a list.
Let’s consider an example.
Say you decided from now on you wanted to make “eating to nourish” a new habit for 2018.
First we’d break it down into something that could become a habit. What will you do?
I will eat 2 cups of veggies, a serve of healthy protein and 1 cup of berries everyday.
Then we create our implementation strategy for our habit:
Design the trigger: How will you interrupt yourself, or remind yourself to take action?
Trigger example 1: Write a shopping list:
1 head of Broccoli, 2 bags of rocket, organic meat or chicken or beans and lentils, 1 bag of frozen raspberries, 3 punnets of berries (blueberries or strawberries) will be on my shopping list.
Trigger example 2: fun message to myself on fridge! “Eat your greens my sweet little blueberry!”
Trigger example 3: meal plan stuck on the fridge
(All too hard, put it in your diary to order Fit Foods Club meals!)
Slot it into your routine:
How will you make it easy to do? Where will it fit naturally?
Here’s the part where you have to be very realistic with yourself. Where will the habit fit best and easily?
Is there any resistance to your habit and how can you remove the tension to make it easier for yourself to get started.
E.g. You might find you have more time on Tuesday and Thursday nights so you can cook those nights, Monday and Wednesday and Friday you need something quick and easy so you’ll plan to eat healthy ready meals those nights. Say Saturday night is movie night so you’re best having a ready meal for dinner and then choosing a treat for after so you don’t snack on too much junk. Sunday night you might be feeling lazy so you’ll want something simple and quick like a healthy ready meal for dinner. Weekdays for work you might need ready meals for lunch to avoid ending up buying unhealthy expensive take away. You might have blueberries or strawberries with muesli and yoghurt most days, but mornings you exercise you might make a raspberry smoothie. (So as part of your implementation strategy you could map out a meal plan and the ingredients and recipes you need or you might decide you need a pack of 10 meals delivered each week for the times you’re busy and vulnerable and you can take care of the rest).
Reward yourself: How will you make it beneficial to do again?
How will you reward yourself? Reinforcing the behavior is crucial. Some things are naturally reinforcing so they easily become a habit, unfortunately some of the healthier habits often have delayed rewards so you need to figure out how you can instantly acknowledge progress or success.
E.g. Put a sticker on the wall calendar every day you keep your “nourish myself” habit. Once you have 21 days in a row, buy yourself a new piece of active wear, that new cook book, or part of that new dinner set you’ve been wanting. (Don’t choose a food reward!)
If you design three small new habits, trigger yourself to get started on them straight away, and keep rewarding yourself every time you follow through, you will achieve your new year’s resolution goal for sure!
You could do this with eating, exercise, your screen time, your sleep or even your spending habits.
Happy New Year and Good luck!