First things first – you’re amazing. Just as you are.
However, we all have goals and visions we aspire to. Being the best versions of ourselves is a positive focus for us all. Habits can often help us get there. Habits are behaviours we want to follow forever, without decision or debate. They allow us to act without thinking. Studies show that about one-fourth of our waking time is spent resisting desire – the urge to eat, rest, relax, and pursue pleasure. By mastering our habits, we eliminate decision and have much more mental resources to devote elsewhere.
Far from four-day juice cleanses and thirty-day yoga challenges, habits, the death-do-us-part kinds are not built overnight. One of the biggest habit myths is that habits are formed in 21-days. This number has very little scientific basis. Studies have now shown that habits take at least 66 days to form, and even this is very dependent on individual circumstances.
Eating healthier, exercising regularly, pursuing our passion, being better towards one another, these are all behaviours we strive towards. So what does it take to keep these behaviours – forever?
Lesson #1. Habits are HARD.
Every week I have a new behaviour I want to adopt. I WILL drink more water, consume less wine, eat more greens, and walk past the delicious breakfast roll with haloumi and tomato relish…every day. I’ll get on my mat 7 days a week, I’ll be more patient with my parents, and I’ll be more productive at work. And yet every week, I fall short on a few of these.
Why?! I have such good intentions. I really do want these behaviours to be a part of my life. Maybe I don’t want them enough? Maybe I just lack self-control?
The truth is, it is natural for us to avoid effort and seek pleasure. Small fails along the way are completely normal. During the initial stages of forming a healthy habit, it can feel like hell. You’re going to have to get good at discomfort to reap real rewards.
At the end of the day, you need to make sure that your behaviours are ones that make you feel healthier and happier, not make you feel worse.
It’s a process and there is no secret to habits, just plain old repetition and consistency.
Lesson #2 Strategies = Success
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for rapid and permanent change in behaviours. There are however, dozens of different strategies you can try to help influence your pathway to more positive actions.
First, engage in self-inquiry. Habits are personal, and it will take a personal approach. If you are more of a lark, than owl, schedule your exercise for the morning, or visa-versa. Work with your natural tendencies, not against them. Are you an opener or finisher when it comes to projects? Let your colleagues know, and work more effectively. Find out if you are more of an abstainer, someone who needs to stop something completely or a moderator, someone who has enough will power to enjoy things in moderation. Personally, I’m an abstainer; although I often kid myself into thinking I can have “just one” square of chocolate.
Recognise triggers and how to avoid them If they are unavoidable, make a strong If-Then game plan to avoid on-the-spot justifications and loopholes at times of weakness.
If I go out to a work function and a client offers me wine
Then I will politely decline and say I’m doing a dry week
If it is raining outside and I can’t go for a run
Then I will do an online yoga class at home
If I crave chocolate
Then I will go for the natural, dark chocolate option
Lesson #3. Pay attention to starting points and finish lines
Whenever you go through any big changes in your life – a change of scene, job or relationship, you’re in a unique space to create and catapult better habits. A clean slate can make it much easier for you to adopt new behaviours.
Finish lines can be great tool for goal setting, and long-term behaviour changes. However, finish lines can be dangerous. Finish lines tend to disrupt habits as they are marked with a clear stopping point, and stopping points make us vulnerable. For most of us , finish lines mark success once we’ve decided we’ve achieved enough, we tend to stop moving forward. It is really important to have a game-plan for after your finish line. If you are on a 30-day yoga challenge – day 31 is the most important.
Change takes time, and for most of us, a series of failures and small wins. If you skip a gym day, eat some cake at a birthday, stay up late, have a glass too many of wine – relax. What you do most days is more important than what you do sometimes.
Suggested further reading:
“Better than Before” Gretchen Rubin. Rubin is the author of “The Happiness Project”.
“The Power of Habit – Why we do what we do in life and business” – Charles Duhig