Life consists of habits. Like it or not, our habits determine our destiny. It is a well-established fact that your diet and lifestyle can be a matter of life and death. The habit of sitting on the couch, inhaling tobacco and gnawing down sleeves of Oreo cookies will catch up with you. Likewise, eating your leafy greens, drinking water like you mean it, a daily hike and a good night’s sleep can lead to a longer, healthier life.
A habit is a deeply ingrained way of doing things. It is a rut, if you will. The best way to get out of a bad rut is to dig a good one. This might take a little longer than the oft-quoted 21 days. In a hallmark study conducted by behavioral psychologist Dr. Phillipa Lally, it was discovered that, on average, it takes anywhere from eight weeks to eight months to build a new behavior.
Though it takes desire, commitment and time to create a new habit, there are some proven techniques to get you on track quickly.
1. In the beginning, keep it easy. Simple wins will encourage you to take on more challenges. Instead of committing to 50 squats a day, start with 5. Instead of trying to eat 3 servings of leafy greens a day, start with just 1. Small wins will motivate you to ratchet up your commitment.
2. Tie it to something you already do. Identify an existing daily habit such as making coffee, brushing your teeth, getting out of bed. Add a new healthy habit to that daily habit. For example, place your water bottle next to the coffee maker. Fill it up and take 12 sips before you have your first cup of coffee. While you brush your teeth, do 5 squats. When your feet hit the floor in the morning, take 10 deep cleansing breaths.
3. Break it down. If you goal is to take a brisk walk 30 minutes a day, break it up into three 10-minute brisk walks. If it is to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day, set a reminder on your computer and drink 8 ounces every hour on the hour while you are at work.
4. Don’t try to control with will power what you can control with environment. Will power is like a muscle. It grows weary with overuse. Instead, identify the things that trip you up and get them out of your life. If glutting on chips and salsa is a serious temptation, get the chips and salsa out of your kitchen. If you are triggered to crave ice cream every time you pass the ice cream shop on your way home from work, take a different route home.
5. Not into it today? Do something anyway. If your goal is to do 25 pushups, but you are just not in the mood, do 5. Head in the right direction. This will activate you to do more.
6. If life gets in the way, don’t dismay. Get back on track as soon as you can. Your ultimate success is dependent on how well you recover from setbacks.
7. Reward a streak. If you set a goal to drink 64 ounces of water every day for an entire week, reward a successful streak with something fun – a pedicure, a movie. If it is to get to the gym 3 times a week for a month and you do, purchase those jeans you have been wanting. Having something to look forward to will reinforce your commitment to get it done.
The ultimate reward is this, of course: the energy and health you need to live the life you want. You will get there, sure enough, one healthy habit at a time.