By Benjamin Semmens, Registered Nutritionist (BHSc)
The new year is fast approaching which means many of us have already started thinking about new year’s resolutions. But sadly, we often overcommit and make drastic lifestyle changes only to go back to our old ways two to three weeks in. Sticking to new habits can be tough, especially with our already busy lives and rigidly set routines. Creating and maintaining lasting habits is not something we’re born with, it’s a skill, and like any skill, it takes time, practice and hard work.
Interested to know the hack to habits and common mistakes to avoid? Keep on reading.
Ask yourself the “why” behind your new habit
Before getting started, it’s important to first understand what’s motivating you to make a change. Research has shown that we’re more likely to develop a habit when it comes from intrinsic motivation (completing an activity for internal satisfaction) compared to extrinsic motivation (completing an activity for some external reward e.g. money or praise). For example, do you want to work out to post it on social media or are you working out to feel better? If your habits are intrinsic, you’re creating internal satisfaction and will be more likely to adhere to these goals long term.
Planning and visualization
Once you have decided on your new habit it’s time to figure out how to implement it into your daily life. People often spend more time visualizing a habit without ever practicing it—that’s why planning is crucial. Using a calendar can help you identify how much time you spend being productive and how much time you spend engaging in rewarding behaviour (e.g. watching the bachelor or scrolling on social media). Once you’ve assessed your current schedule you can figure out where you can free up time for your new habit. For example, instead of watching 2 hours of TV a day, you could spend 10 minutes of that two hours focusing on your new habit. Even a small increase in productivity can have a huge impact on sustaining habits long term.
Eat that frog
The key to maintaining a habit is to do the hardest tasks first aka eating that frog. As humans, we often look for comfort in everyday life and once we’re comfortable, it’s very difficult to do the harder tasks. Learning another language at 10 o’clock at night is the last thing that you want to do when you’re burnt out at the end of the day, but if you do it first thing in the morning you won’t have to worry about it. Creating behavioural chains by completing the habit before the reward can ensure that you stay on track. For example: “I will do 5 minutes of meditation (habit) before I have my morning coffee (reward)." In this example, coffee is an external reward that makes you feel good, but you can also use internal rewards e.g. I do meditation to feel better and to be more present. Both internal and external rewards can be useful in developing a habit.
From habit to ritual
To make a habit into a routine it needs to be achievable and long-term. People often go wrong when they try to maintain several new habits at once instead of just focusing on one habit at a time. Once you’ve decided on your long-term goal, start breaking it down into smaller chunks that you can implement with one small habit each day that requires minimal effort. For example, instead of meditating for 10 minutes a day, start with 1 minute a day or rather than reading a chapter of a book a day, start by reading one page and gradually increase over time. Once your habit becomes a routine in your daily life, it’ll be harder to shake it. Stay consistent and be patient.
Be prepared to fail
Nobody wants to fail, but preparing for failure can help you get back on track. One of the major reasons that habits fail is that if we can’t keep up with the demands of a new habit, we often beat ourselves up about it and lose motivation. Trying anything new can be difficult and there are plenty of barriers that can prevent us from reaching our goals. This is the perfect opportunity to reflect and reassess by asking yourself what went wrong. Maybe you’re spending too much time on other tasks or perhaps you’re fatigued or burnt out? Life gets in the way sometimes so don’t forget to be kind to yourself.
If you have any other questions or need some extra support with your health, feel free to email our head nutritionist Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org and subscribe to our blog for more updates.
This article does not constitute medical advice and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. Please see your medical professional before implementing the above