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I’m not very good at sticking to new habits.

In fact, despite knowing how important it is to floss (my teeth, not the new dance craze…), I only ever remember to do it when I either see my diligent husband doing it or see my dentist (who happens to also attend my yoga classes!)

Even though I encourage my students to pick a time of day to meditate or practice yoga and then stick to it in order to lock it in as a habit, I rarely manage to do this myself!

I’m also conscious that when I set an intention to create some new healthy habit I can sometimes seem to derail it with some serious self-sabotage. Think staying up super late finishing something so I can’t possibly get up at the intended time of 6am; or baking delicious chocolate chip cookies that I just have to taste and up-ending the intention of sugar-free eating…

As we head towards the end of the year and the new year ahead this is traditionally the time for reflecting on our year and our life and setting new resolutions or intentions for the year ahead.

So I thought it was time to research how to create and stick to healthy habits and also find out the psychology behind why we can seem to subconsciously do our best to fail.

Here’s what I found out:

  1. Be clear. Get clear about the new habit you wish to create and why. What are the benefits and why do you believe that you need this in your life. You need to believe this is good for you to make the change. If you are doing this for someone else or you are not quite sure then it is going to be so much harder to make the change.
  2. Commit daily for at least 30 days. On average it takes 2-3 months before a behaviour becomes automatic but this can vary from person to person. Committing to 30 days of your new behaviour daily is a really good idea to start to make it stick. Those yoga studio 30 day challenges are not just good for promotion, they are grounded in research. 
  3. Start simple. If you try to change things too much or change too many things at once it will overwhelming. If you want to start meditating try beginning with 10 minutes once a day and not 1 hour twice a day!
  4. Stronger together. Get a buddy or accountability partner (or a team) to start the new thing with you. You can support each other, remind each other and keep each other motivated. It’s more likely that one of you will be inspired/remember when your are working together!
  5. Set reminders. You can’t expect yourself to remember to do the new thing straight away when you have so many other things to remember (we live in a busy world right?) So embrace technology and set yourself daily reminders.
  6. Know your barriers. Reflect on the obstacles that might prevent you from sticking to your new habit (time, space, costs, self-belief are just some of them). And plan for them. So if you know you have a big week of social engagements or work coming up then work out what times of day would be best to do your thing. If you constantly feel that you don’t have time in the day set your alarm to get up earlier. If you can’t get out for a run, make an alternative plan to do cross-training that day. If your new habit is related to exercise or body movement and you get injured, work with a professional to develop a plan around your injury.
  7. Have cues. The science shows that we have triggers that show us when to engage in habitual behaviour. This can be good or bad behaviour! Since we are looking at creating new healthy habits we can look at activities that can be triggers for the new habit. For example if this is a meditation practice the trigger could be waking up in the morning, so we meditate first thing when we wake up. The trigger could also be when we get the kids to sleep we take time out to art journal, read or craft (fill in with some activity that feels nurturing to you) rather than doing chores or working on the computer.
  8. Be curious. Go into this new habit with a curious mind as if this were an experiment. Use a journal and write about how well you stuck to the new habit, how you feel if you didn’t or did. What effects this new habit may be having on you (not quite so exciting if you are trying to remember to floss but believe me the insights are amazing if you are starting a meditation practice!
  9. Reward yourself. When you remember to do the thing give yourself a reward. This doesn’t have to be something every day. It could be if you remembered to floss every day for a week you get to treat yourself to long bath with essential oils and epsom salts (I think I just worked out mine!) Our minds respond really well to reward (we haven’t really ever grown up) so to expect ourselves to stick with a new habit (especially if it feels a bit like a chore) without reward makes it really hard!
  10. Keep beginning again. Just like bringing the mind back to the breath over and over in meditation, when we fall off the wagon and go for days without doing the new thing just recommit to doing right now or starting again the very next day. Mindfulness is just a practice of remembering and so is any new habit creation.

I hope this has been as useful for you as for me. As we take this time to reflect on our health and set intentions for next year let’s use these tips to actually stick to them and fill our lives with healthy habits!

Perhaps you can join me on 5 January to set powerful intentions at the Ignite your Intentions one day retreat.

Let me know how you go in the comments.