Aristotle had this to share about habits: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The motivation for developing a positive health habit may come from the beckoning of a New Year, a firm nudge from your doctor or your ever-expanding waistline. A few months ago we talked about how to break bad habits. While bad habits can almost miraculously get set in stone overnight, developing a good habit takes a bit more coaxing, commitment, deliberation and time. But you can become a true master at developing a good habit. You just need the tools and resolve to help you get there.
Here are five practical tips to transform your healthy pipe dream into a solid reality.
Anyone who has written a grant, business proposal, or college application, knows that just a few lines below writing your full name, you must state your objective. So let’s start our good habit forming right here. Set your own objective and be clear and specific about it. If the good habit you want to develop is to be active in some small way each day, or to swap out ice cream for fruit, then your road to health just started blazing with a string of green lights. A crisp and sharp objective gives you the resolve to take the consequent steps to execute your plan.
Don’t worry – You don’t have to own a crystal or burn incense to practice this good-habit-forming step. In fact, imagining what your life might look like with your health goal fastened securely and proudly to your low-rise jeans is a practice that is used by world-class athletes and leaders. Here’s why: As you mentally rehearse your health goal, your mind and body become trained to perform the skill or behavior. In doing so, you literally “intend” a specific outcome to occur. This visualized intention ups your experience and confidence even if the actual behavior hasn’t been put into action.
Visualize yourself in challenging situations that test your capacity to stick to your commitment. If your co-worker often beckons you to ditch the weight room for happy hour or if your mom, in all of her sweet maternal sincerity, feeds your break-up sorrows with homemade mac & cheese casserole and oatmeal raisin cookies, visualize yourself not caving to the temptation. Mentally-preparing for surprises and executing them in your visualization practice will effectively equip you to handle the real-life situation when it arises. And believe us, it will arise.
If you don’t succeed….yeah, yeah, you know the adage. But compadres, it’s true. As you go about making this new habit into a permanent one, aim for consistency rather than for how well you adhere to your newly-made commitment. For instance, your objective is to avoid all refined carbohydrates from Monday through Friday and you encounter three carb challenges throughout the course of your workday. You only cave to one. Rather than focus on the singular slip, get right back in there and stay committed to your cause.
Experts can’t concur on how long it actually takes to form and establish a good habit. Most estimates put it at around a month or a bit less. Instead of measuring the success of your healthy habit by some deadline, measure it rather by your continued focus to recommit to your objective right after being sidelined.
As we’ve said before: It’s the day-to-day effort of putting one foot in front of the other; of making one primal choice at a time. In order to form a long-lasting good habit, you have to commit to the change every day. And then recommit to it the next day and the day after that.
We don’t change overnight. It took you a few decades to develop the body, resolve and habits that you currently own up to. As well-intentioned as the new habit you want to establish may be, you don’t want to go about it in a bipolar kind of way with a rush of adrenaline in the beginning that quickly turns to three months of inaction.
So heed this advice: Slow your pace. Want to (finally) commit to a regular fitness program? Make a pact to hit the gym once a week for the first couple weeks. If you manage to accomplish this goal pat yourself on the back and up the ante to two days each week and so on. Make your goals challenging enough so that real change is actually taking place (one day is better than none!), but not so hard (e.g. exercise every day of the week) that you set yourself up for failure.
When it comes to establishing that new habit, tell as many people as you can about what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Not only does it create accountability on your end (the heaviness of living up to expectations is a massive motivator for taking the right action) but it also gives you that “ra-ra” pat on the rear just when you need it.
Remember that your habits are you own choices. It is up to you, and only you, to put them in place and stay their course. Luckily, you’ve already made the first step by reading this post. Armed with the right frame of mind and tools to get you from point A to point B you have set yourself up for success. Now get out there and develop some good habits!
Questions for Readers
What good habits have you developed in your life? What helped you form them? Was the change slow and gradual or immediate? What good habits would you still like to develop and what is keeping you from already living them? Share your thoughts in the comment board!