We have never needed a fresh start more. 2020 was a full tsunami of stress and uncertainty. We pulled ourselves through. But when we’re stressed, we tend to fall back to our old, not-so-great habits.
Raise your hand if you picked up a few last year.
Whether it was more couch surfing than usual, a bit too much comfort food eating, or more drinking than we would have liked, now is the time to let go of the unhealthy and make space for the nourishing good stuff.
Take a deep breath and sit back. As a specially trained integrative health coach, I’m in your corner and will guide you through the process of building good habits—and bidding farewell to bad ones—step by step.
Creating a Good Habit
1. Make your motivation
Take a moment to write down your “health vision.” This is a statement that includes your health goal, plus why you want it and what it will enable in your life—for example, “I want to exercise and lose weight to have the energy to play with my kids.” This is your inspiration. Put it somewhere where you see it and go back to it when you feel weak, want to give up, or when you fall off the wagon.
The next key to making any powerful change in life is boosting your readiness to change. Most people feel the change they want to make is extremely important, but they don’t have the confidence in themselves to make it—because of past failures, limiting beliefs, and a lack of support and specifics to get there. You’ve got to move yourself up the scales of both importance and confidence, in order to be successful in reaching your goals.
Here’s how it works:
On a scale of 1-10, how IMPORTANT is it to you to make this change?
👉 What’s your number—and why that number?
👉 What are the pros of changing?
👉 What are the downsides of staying the same?
👉 Envision a future five years down the road, both with and without the change. How do you feel?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how CONFIDENT do you feel in your ability to make this change?
👉 What’s your number—and why that number?
👉 What strengths do you have to support you?
👉 What past success can you draw on?
2. Create the routine.
Now, identify one small step you can make to get to your goal. The key here: Start REALLY small. When you do too much, it takes more effort and is harder to achieve, like saying you’ll meditate for 30 minutes a day when you have never meditated before. Instead, meditate for two minutes. This is your routine.
3. Make it easy.
Now create a cue, which is a trigger to do the routine. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear suggests you get really specific about when and where you’re doing it. Use a technique called habit stacking, where you do your routine after something else that is already a habit: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT] in [LOCATION] for [TIME].” So, for example: “After my morning coffee, I will meditate in my living room for two minutes.”
4. Reward yourself!
This teaches your brain that your new habit is worthwhile. The rewards can be intrinsic—”I feel so much more relaxed when I meditate and I have a better day”—or extrinsic, such as buying yourself a new pair of sneakers after you’ve successfully exercised for a month.
Continue the cue, routine, reward cycle and you’ll begin to make this new routine a habit!
Breaking a Bad Habit
1. Identify the habit you want to break, connecting it to your health vision.
Say you want to stop snacking at night. Go back to your health vision, using your goal as motivation to break the bad habit: “I want to exercise and lose weight to have energy to play with my kids.” Remind yourself why you’re doing this work when you feel weak, want to give up, or fall off the wagon.
2. Change your environment.
Make the bad habit invisible—reducing the exposure and cues for it. Change up the route you walk in the morning to avoid buying fancy $5 lattes, for example. Keep in mind that the people you surround yourself with are also part of your environment. Consider taking a break from spending time with those who don’t support the habit you’re trying to break.
3. Let go of the all-or-nothing mindset.
We will inevitably slip up. Breaking habits is hard work. When we do this, we tend to think that we can’t do it and give up—but don’t! Instead, let go of the all-or-nothing mindset. One slip-up doesn’t negate all the effort and work you’ve put in. Say you go three days—or even three weeks—without having a cigarette but then break down and have a puff. Accept it and get right back on the wagon.
4. Give yourself time.
Research shows that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to break a bad habit, depending on how long you’ve had it, the emotional needs it fills, and how much support you have. Have patience, and be kind to yourself. Look at it as a journey, and enjoy the ride as you head toward a destination of increased health, well-being, and resilience.