Creating healthy habits, are you up for it?

by Suzanne van de Venne
Blue Bottle

Over half of our daily actions, between 40 to 95% of our behaviour – how we think, what we say, and our overall actions – falls into the habit category. That means that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Habits are the things we do without thinking, they are part of our routine and we execute most of our habits daily, or even multiple times a day. Examples are brushing your teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, how you go to work, checking your phone, the food you put on your plate, how much you move, etc. If we take a closer look at our daily life we will be able to spot some healthy and some not so healthy habits. Becoming aware of these habits is the first step to change.

When it comes to installing healthy habits and changing behaviour it can be overwhelming to start. We often know what we should do but struggle to apply this knowledge into our daily lives.Resisting this kind of scary change often leads to a lifestyle that we know isn’t what we want but we feel powerless to change the situation.

In the demanding society we live in, it is easy to prioritise work, friends or family above ourselves but the truth is that if we take great care of ourselves we can take even better care of others.

From the inside out

In our world of information access, the default strategy is often to look outside of ourselves for change. There are countless diets and training plans promising a better version of you. Many of us have tried and failed one of these before. Radical changes rarely last. The reason these – well-intended – plans often fail is because the change is too big and we rely on motivation and willpower to follow through. The result is that we fail in making these changes part of our lifestyle for the long term. When we want to get healthy or crave change we are often very focussed on the goal or outcome like ‘getting fit’ or ‘losing weight’. What we do less often is dissect the process that needs to be in place to achieve this goal. Lastly, probably the most important step we forget about is to look at the identity needed for the change we desire.

It is like the layers of the onion I was peeling for the kids’ pasta the other day. The outer layer of the onion represents the goal we are after like the ‘getting fit’. The middle layer of the onion is the process of how to do this. Examples are: how many times a week do you workout or what kind of workouts do you do? The inner layer of the onion is about your identity. This is about who you want to become. In the case of ‘getting fit’, you could ask yourself: ‘Who is the person that can achieve this goal?’ The answer could be ‘someone that never misses a workout’. Once we identify with the person we want to become, parts fall into place but if there is friction between the identity needed to achieve the goal and the behaviour, we often fail. This leads us to get right back to where we started (or worse) after we run out of motivation. Therefore one of the keys to lasting change is to work from the inside out and not from the outside in.

How to change your habits?

You might think, ok that sounds good but how can I apply this to my life? Here are a few things you can do to install healthy habits into your life or eliminate bad ones.

Small changes (where and when)

Knowing the person you want to become to reach your goal, think of a healthy habit that you want to implement into the day that is easy for you, I mean really easy. It should be a small habit that you can get 100% scoring rate with. Examples are: taking one-flight of stairs in my building, adding one extra portion of vegetables to my day, waking up 10 min earlier so I can make breakfast, meditate for two min in the morning or any other one that fits you. Make sure you only choose one or two to start with. Write them down on a piece of paper and hang them somewhere you can see them to be reminded. On that same paper, you write down ‘when’ and ‘where’ you are going to do this. This is an essential step. I am going to eat an extra portion of veggies (in the canteen) (for lunch).

Repetition repetition, repetition

Depending on the difficulty of the habit you want to adopt and you as a person, it can take roughly between 21 and 100 days to adopt a new habit. Therefore we first need to create the habit (going through the motions in a way we are successful) before we can improve it. For example, if you never had a successful running or workout routine before, you start by making the effort to leave the house four times a week and go for a five minute run consistently. Only when you have this habit dialled in you can build up the time running. This way we feel and are successful and it doesn’t scare us that much. The biggest hurdle is often to get dressed and leave the house. Repetition and being successful is key!

blank calender

Use a calendar to keep track

Once you have chosen one or two healthy habits you want to implement into your day and you have decided on where and when to fit them in, it is time to print a monthly calendar and hang it next to the other paper (in your bedroom or on the fridge for example). Every night before you go to bed, cross off the habits you have successfully executed. Your goal is to go for as long as needed to make it automatic. Key point number one: go for a 100% score. Key point number two: never miss twice (in case you did miss one).

How to get rid of bad habits?

One strategy that James Clear suggests, to become more aware of your good and bad habits, is to write your good and bad habits on a note card for seven days straight.
coffee and tulips

Keep track of the ‘who- what- when and where’ you execute these habits. Once you know the trigger of the bad habit, you can either find an alternative or eliminate the trigger. For example, if you always want to eat chocolate sitting on the couch after a long and tiring day, you could either decide to find an alternative like eating a healthy snack or you could decide not to watch TV. By eliminating the trigger of sitting in front of the TV you have the opportunity to also eliminate the habit you connected to this action.

Habits are really the building blocks of how we spend our days and our lives. A person with lots of healthy habits is likely to live a healthy life! Strive to be a better version of yourself every day! Changes that seem so small that you feel they don’t make a difference eventually create momentum and create change. You can start creating healthy habits anywhere and at any time. With only a few minutes a day you can start making this change, are you up for it?

Suzanne is a Certified Health coach, specialised in reprogramming habits for sustainable health and happiness. She is a health lover, athlete, and mom of two young girls. With her positive, caring and action-oriented approach she has helped countless women build healthy habits for life. You can find out more about her and her coaching at her website or contact her at [email protected]

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