Find out how to build healthy habits for life – the easy way!
It’s natural when starting something new or when wanting to overhaul your habits, to go big or go home. Go all in. Start off with a bang.
But research has shown, and you’ve probably found it to be true in your own life, that starting off with a bang often leads to fizzling out pretty quickly.
In fact, one way to ensure failure is to start a habit at the pace you want to end up eventually.
For example, starting a new lifestyle diet eating only raw veg and green smoothies all day. Or starting a new gym routine doing a 1-hour peloton session followed by an hour of 200lb weights.
Now don’t get me wrong. You can probably get there. But starting there is a recipe for disaster.
That’s why it’s important to…
Want to overhaul your diet? Swap out something small like replacing white sugar with coconut sugar. And do nothing else.
Want to start making exercise a part of your life? Strap on your running shoes and stroll out your front door. Notice, I didn’t say run, right?
That’s because if you’re wanting to create a habit – that is, an action you want to do repeatedly and possibly for the rest of your life, you need to start small.
Habits, good or bad, more often than not build from small seemingly insignificant changes.
This is the whole reason we don’t notice we’ve developed a bad habit in an area until we look back and realise ‘Wait a minute…how did this happen?’. And to be honest, it’s the best way to build habits. When you hardly notice the change, you have a lot less resistance to the change.
This is the key. So whatever habits you’re looking to build. Start small.
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Make your healthy choice super easy
Following on from the first point, it’s important that your healthy choice is easy. This goes back to the fact that when it’s easy, you’ll have less resistance to the change.
I hate to say this. But essentially we’re intrinsically lazy. Well, at least our brains are! I hope you don’t take offence at that statement. But it’s scientifically proven that our brains – when on autopilot – will always choose the path of least resistance. The easier route. The most comfortable or familiar step.
This is partly because our brains are primarily focused on our survival and if something is comfortable or familiar, it is, by definition, safe. But it’s also because the more familiar an action, the quicker it is to perform and the less work it is for our brains.
So bearing in mind that your brain is essentially lazy, making your healthy choice extremely easy for your brain is less likely to cause your brain to put up a red flag and to just go along with it.
What does this look like in real life? It looks like swapping out your sugar-packed peanut butter for roasted almond butter. Just as delicious, but with zero added sugar.
It looks like cutting down the 3 sugars in your tea to 2 and ¾. Nothing to write home about. And nothing your brain will flag down as “DANGER! CHANGE ALERT!”.
These are easy changes to make. Will they transform your life overnight? Almost certainly not. But the compound impact of making subtle shifts in your choices will have the most dramatic results on your life. AND you can be sure that they are changes you can stick to for life.
I’ve often told the story of how I cut down the sugar in my coffee from 3-4 teaspoons to zero. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a few years of reducing my sugar by ¼ of a teaspoon every few months. Could I have gotten there sooner? Probably. But you know what? I never noticed the change in taste to the sugar in my coffee over those few years. Not once. The change was so gradual that it felt completely normal! And I remember the time I went from ¼ of a teaspoon to zero. I actually thought, “That was easy!”. Because it really was easy dropping that last ¼ teaspoon of sugar.
When you make your healthy choice SO easy that your brain hardly registers it, you know you’re on track for building a habit that will last a lifetime. And that’s what you’re after, a lifestyle change, not a temporary flash in the pan effort. You can totally do this, my friend!
And the best part is that when you catch up with those long-time friends you only see once a year or so, they'll notice the difference - and they'll ask you how you did it!
Connect your habits with a trigger
If you’re creating a completely new habit, you’ll need a trigger. The examples I’ve been giving have mostly related to changing an existing habit – swapping something out for something else. Or reducing something you’re already doing. But what if you wanted to start something new? What if you wanted to start flossing when you’ve never really done that? Or jog or take your vitamins daily when you don’t have a routine for it?
The key to creating habits from scratch is to attach them to a trigger.
A trigger is something that starts (or triggers) an action. In the case of flossing, a trigger might be to ensure that your dental floss is standing next to your toothpaste. That way, when you brush your teeth, you’re reminded (or triggered) to floss.
Or in the case of jogging. You can lay out your exercise clothes the night before, so that when you wake up in the morning, you’re reminded (or triggered) to put on your exercise clothes and head out the door or step on the treadmill.
Or in the case of taking your vitamins daily. You could put your vitamin bottle in the middle of the kitchen counter so that when you fix breakfast in the morning, you’re reminded (triggered) to take your vitamins. By the way, I don’t recommend this particular trigger if you have kids in the house! If you have kids, maybe opt for putting a sticky note on the kettle saying “Vitamins”. 😊
Think through the habit that you want to build and identify a trigger that would remind you to do the action you’re looking to achieve. When you connect your habit with a trigger, you’re helping to automate this new habit. And that’s ideally what you want to create. An action that becomes automatic.
I’ve had triggers to help me write first thing in the morning by prepping my laptop the night before and writing a sticky note with the first few words to prompt me. That’s helped me enormously because my brain doesn’t have to do much work. I just turn on my laptop. And whilst it’s booting up, I’m already thinking about how I will finish that first sentence. And before I know it, I’m off to the races writing paragraph after paragraph.
Track your progress
Jerry Seinfeld, the American comedian is famously reported as saying that one of the key reasons to his success in comedy is that he kept a track record of writing a joke a day. And every day that he wrote a joke, he’d put a big 'X' on his calendar. And after a while, the goal became 'not breaking the chain'.
In essence, he’s saying that if you keep track of what you do every day and try not to break the daily chain of actions that you’re creating, you’ll eventually build a habit. And it’s true!
A habit is an action done repeatedly over time. Keeping a tracker ensures that you’re strengthening that “time” element.
In our stationery club, we include a tracker each month in our stationery bundles. Our members have found it immensely helpful.
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If you want to build healthy habits that last a lifetime, it’s best to start with small, seemingly insignificant, easy changes and grow from there. If you’re building a completely new habit, you’ll want to attach it to a trigger. And whether you’re transforming old habits or creating completely new ones, you’ll want to track your progress which will give you more motivation to take action each day.
Here’s to your new healthy habits!