“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
As a dietitian and nutritionist, people frequently bound into my office full of energy and motivation and announce that they want to ‘change’.
We sit down and start to discuss… and then this happens – They try to change too many factors at once.
People often make a decision to change their lifestyle and they might come up with a list similar to this:
- Eat less processed food,
- Stop drinking alcohol during the week,
- Exercise daily,
- Go to bed earlier,
- Practice being more mindful,
- Be grateful and kind everyday,
- Watch less television,
- Read more books.
Various research and articles discuss different lengths of time it takes to change habits. Some suggest 21 days and some say 3 months. I believe that every person is different and every habit is different. It really does depend on your motivation, your support, your environment, and how ingrained the existing habit is.
One thing that all the studies can agree on, is that although changing a behavior can take a lot of effort to begin with, it does become more automatic and, therefore, easier over time.
So here are my golden rules to developing life long healthy habits:
- Be clear about your goals. Don’t be airy fairy… sit and nut it out. If your goal is to be successful, define what success actually means to you. If the goal is to eat less processed food, they begin by identifying the current processed food in your diet.
- WRITE IT DOWN! Yes, that is right – grab a NOTEBOOK and write it all down. Create an accountability system. If you need to, then organise a friend, psychologist, dietitian or anyone who will help you stay focused.
- Focus on why you are trying to change. Know the benefits of changing, and the consequences or costs of not. Turn motivation into commitment by being better informed. Having a strong rationale for doing something is better than having a general recommendation or just telling yourself, ‘I really must do that’. For example, if the goal is to eat less processed food, be clear about why this is your goal and the benefits of it, this will make it easier to achieve.
- Don’t try to change too much at once. This point is KEY! Focus on just one or two new habits at a time. It might be an idea to think about introducing a new habit change every month… this may seem slow, but that is 12 changes in one year!
- Create a strategy and plan, plan, plan! Make time for your new habits. Get up an hour earlier if you intend to fit exercise into your schedule. If the goal is to eat less processed food, and you have identified the current processed food in your diet, then you need to plan what food you will eat in its place. By planning, you can make it easier for yourself to change a habit.
AND now for the final, KEY, piece of advice:
- Consistency! You are human and that life is unpredictable. If you are trying to change a habit and for some reason you revert back to your old habit, then the most useful thing you can do is recognise this, reflect on why you reverted, learn from it, and move on. Try to practice your new habit, consistently, 9 times out of 10… and don’t give up!
You have GOT THIS! xx