How to Develop New, Healthy Habits
LET’S START BY listing some healthy habits you would like to implement in your life. Remember these are things you want to START doing, not STOP. I’ll give you two examples.
I’m going to eat a healthy, balanced breakfast regularly (for the person who skips breakfast)
I’m going to stop eating when I reach a 7 on my hunger scale (for the person who oftens stuffs themselves)
Now let’s develop a plan to implement these new, healthy habits.
- Plan to succeed. If I want to eat a healthy, balanced breakfast in the morning what will I need to do that? I’ll need the right food in my house. I’ll need time to eat. Set up your environment for success. Do you need to set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier? Do you need to grocery shop?
- Commit. When the alarm goes off in the morning the decision has already been made to get up and eat that healthy breakfast. If tempted to hit snooze, you must take a time out. What’s to gain out of getting up and making that breakfast? How will it fuel your body? How will it make you feel to set an intention and stick to it? Then consider the alternative. How will my body feel if I skip breakfast? How will I feel if I set an intention and did not see it through? Does this action help me or hurt me?
- Accountability. Tell someone you live with that you are committed to making a healthy breakfast every morning. Tell him/her to hold you accountable if they see you wavering on this commitment.
- Don’t expect perfection. Creating new, healthy habits takes time. You may hit the snooze button every once in a while but don’t catastrophize the situation. This doesn’t mean the entire day is blown. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. Every morning is a chance to make a healthy choice.
Forming new habits takes on average 66 days according to a 2009 study at University College, London. Why is that? It has a lot to do with our brains. Patterns we repeat are literally etched into neural pathways in the brain. Do it enough and it becomes automatic. You don’t even think about it. An example is the person who reaches for a cigarette as soon as they get out of bed. Another example is a child who immediately eats a snack when they get home from school. Even though old habits are hard to break it is possible to create a NEW neural pathway in the brain. We do this by repetition. Remember when I asked you to make cards of why you wanted to lose weight? This is why that practice is so helpful. To create new habits you have to MAKE yourself perform the task until it is etched into a new neural pathway. Some studies say 21 days. The 2009 study referenced earlier says 66 days. Realistically the time frame will vary based on the habit and the person. The important point is to believe you can break bad habits and form new ones. Have faith in yourself and don’t give up!