New habits are often only created in the new year. Or sometimes only THE THOUGHT of actually creating one. Why wait? There is no better time than the present, to start a new habit for your health. Especially if it has been burning a hole in your brain for some time now and you’ve been putting it off for some unknown reasons.
Why wait for the new years? What’s really so different?
Before we get into the 6 Foundational Steps to Forming a New Healthy Habit, we must first understand the importance of this new habit. Where does it fit on your priority list? This creates the visual on how much you value the potential change.
PRIORITIZE AND RECOGNIZE
A priority is ‘something’ that is treated as important in your life. The higher the importance, then the higher it goes on the list. Start by making a list of the top 5 things that are the MOST important to you.
For example, here are my top 5 priorities in life:
- My health;
- My Family & their health;
- My Friends & their health;
- Helping others with their health;
- Learning and improving myself in other areas of life.
Your list will most definitely be different from mine, however, I am willing to bet that ‘Health’ is somewhere in the top 5. (Otherwise, why are you reading this?)
So, where does health sit on your priority list? Are you ok with where it sits? Do you feel like you’ve prioritized other things before your health?
#1 – Establish the REAL reason behind your new healthy habit
You probably already know which habit you are trying to create for yourself. The question is, why are you creating this new habit?
What will this habit ultimately give you? A very common example is “I want to lose weight.” The habit is just the tip of the iceberg, but what is the REAL reason underneath this new habit?
What is the reason WHY you want to lose weight? What are your deep rooted motivations for starting and developing your new habit?
So for example, “I really want to LOOK good and healthy”. Or perhaps, “I want to FEEL better and have more energy on a daily basis”.
Being clear on your WHY is critical if you’re going to stick with your new health habit.
Understanding the roots of your motivation will help you to stay focused as you establish and maintain your new habit.
#2 – What external factors are available to help
What do I need to buy/purchase?
Not always applicable to a new habit, but often times there is something that you can acquire that can help form the new habit. There is usually SOMETHING that will help the process. For instance, if your new habit is to drink more water, purchasing a new water bottle that you love would be very helpful in drinking more water. Set a goal for how many full bottles you will drink in a day. Keeping track of how many of those water bottles you drink provides the feedback of how much water you are consuming. This way you’re able to keep track of your daily goal.
Do I know everything I need to know?
We are not experts around the new habit that we are trying to develop. However, it is advantageous to do some research and learn more about the topic. By obtaining more knowledge around the subject, you will trigger your brain to invest more thought and energy into the topic. As a result, it moves to the front of your thought pattern on a more regular basis. Thus, whenever you have a choice to make – to maintain or break your habit – you know the health benefits that you’re getting out of maintaining it.
So, with the goal of drinking more water, by learning more about the benefits of drinking 3L of water everyday and even the consequences of NOT doing so, it can provide you with valuable motivation that you need.
Do I have someone who can help me?
This if often referred to as an accountability partner. A person who provides support, and guidance, with staying on track. It could be as simple as talking about the topic and triggering those thoughts into action. Having an accountability partner drastically increases your chances of progressing towards your new goal.
Is it a friend? Maybe your partner? Maybe a family member? Put some serious thought into this. You want to choose someone who will motivate you and support you through this. Some people don’t do well with their partner telling them what to do. So choose wisely because when you choose the right person, they can be fuel to propel you in the right direction and help you create a habit that will last.
#3 – IDENTIFY THE VULNERABILITIES OF YOUR NEW HABIT
New habits are fragile. Especially when it comes to our health if it is not prioritized first. It is VERY IMPORTANT to be proactive in discovering where the habit is likely to fall apart. Examine the habit and identify EXACTLY where things start to breakdown. This is typically where excuses come from. I did not reach my goal today because…
After you identify these probable scenarios, create a backup plan. Incorporate an IF-THEN strategy to a potential habit killer. FOR EXAMPLE: IF I am too tired after work to make dinner, THEN I will make sure there is chili in the freezer than I can take out to have a healthy dinner.
Vulnerabilities are ONLY weaknesses if we allow them to be. Instead we can use them as fantastic opportunities to strengthen the habit. By breaking through 2-3 of these moments, you will start to feel the sense of getting in the groove.
#4 – CREATE REMINDERS/TRIGGERS
A trigger, or reminder, is what initiates the habit. Anything that prompts your brain to think about what you’re trying to accomplish. If your goal is to drink more water, it can be something as simple as, leaving a sticky note by your mirror in the morning to drink a glass of water. Using sticky notes throughout the house are simple and inexpensive ways to create triggers in your life to form the habit. This will GREATLY increase your chances of developing the new habit. There are heaps of apps that you can also add to your phone to set reminders for your habit if you’re a digital lover.
#5 – ACKNOWLEDGE THE REWARDS
After setting up steps 1-4, you are ready to start building your habit. One of the most important things to do is to acknowledge the rewards. I’m not talking about a gold star sticker that you get for doing a good job. I’m talking about the more intangible rewards that you get when you start to see progress. These are the benefits you gain from doing the habit. These are the rewards or results that come from the habit and they also help FUEL the habit.
When you start to notice the rewards, then you’ll have a desire to repeat the action the next time a reminder/trigger pops up.
Period of Delay
Keep in mind, for most changes and new habits, the rewards are not immediate. Particularly at the beginning stages. Once you have established a routine, the rewards are inevitable. However, as to not feel disappointed, it is important to expect a period of delay where you will be without those results/rewards. This is the period where you’ll rely on the work you did in steps 1-4.
#6 – DON’T FALL VICTIM TO THE “21 DAYs”
Unfortunately, many people believe that forming a new healthy habit only takes 21 days. This was a poor interpretation of Maxwell Maltz, claim that “…it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”
While there is some truth to his words, the reality is that it actually depends on the person, their behavior and surrounding circumstances. On average, it takes 2 to 8 months to form a new habit.
According to a published study How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world, It could take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit – The average being 66 days.
Interestingly, the researchers also found that “missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, if you mess up, keep going!
“Missing one opportunity to perform the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process.”
Building a new habit is not easy. Trust the system that you create by completing these steps and the results will show. Embrace longer timelines and realize that habit building is a process and not an event.