Creating new habits
“If you change nothing, nothing will change”… Often, when we are feeling stuck or we want change in our lives, we can resist changing our habits. The reality is, it’s the small shifts in behaviour that create the big shifts in outcome.
One thing I had to do to recover from burnout (and continue to do to manage chronic illness) is keep my daily habits in check, to stop the old behaviours come flooding back. Believe me, I have tried every quick fix, every miracle cure, distraction, and self-medication there is to no avail. The same was true pre- burnout as I yo-yo dieted but never quite managed to stick to a healthy sustainable weight.
Here are some of the things I have learnt about forming habits along the bumpy road to recovery. They are not exclusive to managing your health, they are true of any habit you want to form…
What is your why?
Unless you’re clear on what the benefit is going to be (either short or longer term) and what that means for you, then it’s unlikely you’re going to stick to it. If I wanted to introduce a habit of say eating a doughnut every day, that might be a bit easier than increasing my veg intake or cut out gluten. Why? One gives instant gratification, the other I will not see the benefits of until some time into the future. Humans are hard wired for the instant gratification thing, which is why sugary snacks taste so good. But as modern-day humans we need to look after the longer-term wellbeing more, so we look to form healthier habits.
So, to get clear on your why, ask yourself these questions…
- If I were to start / stop <insert habit> what would that do for me? And why is that important?
- What else would it give me? And why is that important?
- What will forming this habit mean to you?
- And if you don’t introduce this new habit, then what does that mean?
Get super clear on why it’s important for you, then write it down, draw a picture to represent it, whatever works for you, but you will find a visual reminder helps, on the days you begin to slack. For many years I had a set of six pictures on the wall of all the things I wanted to do and how I wanted to feel when I had more energy – this helped me visualise what I would get from being disciplined. The mind is very clever, and I can still visualise those six pictures now, even though the printout has long gone.
Be in it for the long game
Quick fixes rarely work, I am sorry to tell you (you knew deep down didn’t you!). The most sustainable changes happen in our lives via the slow and steady route. While I was recovering from burn out, patience was the biggest lesson I learnt. Often, I would begin to try to run before I could walk (literally and metaphorically) and it always ended in either tears or another few days in bed. This habit forming is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to change habits for good, then you need to be patient with yourself and with the results.
Start small and don’t try to do “all of the things”
When we decide we want to make big changes in our life, this often results in us deciding we need to make changes to multiple things at one time. However, the reality is, when we overload ourselves, we set ourselves up for a fall. What happens is that we don’t manage to do one of the things, we then sabotage ourselves from doing the rest of the things. Or we feel so overwhelmed that we don’t know where to start.
Pick one thing to start with – that can either be a) the easiest (to get you started and give you momentum) or b) the one which will have the most impact (and help the others follow).
So, really think about what small thing you could change straight away that would start to have an impact over time.
Or is there something that if you started doing right away that could have a big impact?
Whatever it is, the message right now is that “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything!”
Make it part of the routine
A habit most of us don’t forget (as adults, anyway) is brushing our teeth in the morning and before bed. There are reasons for this – we have done it for forever and we do it the same time every day. The same can be applied to new habits you want to form. Often, by sticking to doing at the same time every day / week, it becomes more ingrained in our routine.
What other activity could you tie in your new habit with? For instance, if you wanted to start journaling in the morning, then do it just before you eat breakfast.
You could create a “trigger” that you associate with the habit. For example, if you want to get better at taking deep breaths to help clear your stress – when you are driving, every time you see a particular road sign, use that as a trigger to (safely) take a deep breath.
Remove the barriers
It’s all too easy to not get in your gym kit and go for a run, if your joggers aren’t clean or you can’t find your trainers. Take away that room for an excuse by laying your gym kit out the night before. Equally, if the new habit is something like a lunchtime walk, you need to schedule the time, or it just won’t happen!
Hang out with people online or in real life that are trying to achieve the same thing. They may share your “why” or they may just help you to know you are not alone. We are much more accountable to do something if we tell other people we are, rather than keeping it all in our heads.
For some, a more formal type of accountability can work better. That’s why we hire personal trainers when we want to get fitter. To help with your own personal development, you can hire a coach for accountability that will support you, without judgement and keep you on track.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
There will be days when you break the habit or drop the ball. Don’t be too hard on yourself. When you have an all or nothing mentality, it is easy to use this as an excuse to give up. Pick yourself back up, allow it and make sure you don’t miss it again. Treat yourself with the same compassion, kindness, and gentle push you would give a good friend to keep going.
We do it with children, it’s ok to do it with yourself. Remember that doughnut I was talking about? It gave you instant gratification. Now, I am not suggesting that you allow yourself a doughnut every time you go for a run or write in your gratitude journal as that may be counterproductive! But if you can combine the new habit with something that does give you instant gratification, that might help. An example could be that you listen to your favourite podcast when you go for your daily walk.
To allow yourself either some instant gratification alongside the habit or to reward yourself and recognise the achievement of forming it, can really help for it to become long lasting.
As a coach, I help people to understand what habits they need to change or form to create the life that they want. If you would like to know more about working with me, please send me an email at email@example.com or send me a message on +447864633477