As we come into the new year, many people are thinking about making new year’s resolutions, but really we should be focusing on forming long term healthier habits. Statistically most people will stop their ‘new behavioral’ around January 11th. Forming healthy habits can be crucial for the success of any new year’s goals. The more that healthier habits become habitual, the more likely it is that you will keep doing them, even beyond January 11. Check out these tips for creating healthy habits:
1. Begin with small goals. If you try to go too big, you won’t repeat it. If your goal is to get in shape and you go to the gym for two hours the first day, you will be very sore the next day and not likely return. Start small and reasonable—a goal of just getting one foot in the gym might be a good starting point. Once you get into the gym, you are more likely to at least do something. Remember, doing anything is really the goal. You can commit to a long term goal of doing something, but maybe not one hour a day. You may need to aim even smaller to start with short exercises such as parking further from the store entrance or planning brief, short walks. Keeping the goal small at first increases the likelihood that you will repeat the action.
2. Schedule the time. Make sure to plan a time each day for your new healthy habit. If your health goals include walking every day for example, ensure that it is planned and made into a priority. Ideally, this should occur at the same time every day to help build a habit out of it. This might be at the beginning of your day, but if you know that you aren’t an early riser it might be before or after dinner, or on your lunch break walking inside your air conditioned work place or large box store.
2. Connect the action to an existing habit. There are many activities that we already do every day. For example, if you are trying to be more consistent with your blood pressure medication, leave it next to your tooth brush to take it before you brush your teeth each morning. You can even make it stand out by putting it in a brightly colored pill box. Make it really obvious. Don’t hide it in a drawer because you’ll likely forget it in there. Make the connection between the current daily activity and the new activity you want to add to the day.
3. Find a friend to come along with you. Keeping an activity going and turning it into a habit can become a lot easier if a friend comes along with you. Going for a walk can seem like less of a chore and become more enjoyable if you have a friend come with you to share the experience with. It can turn a dreaded activity into a social event that you like doing. For instance, if you wanted to make an appointment that you are dreading, maybe for your yearly mammogram, see if a friend needs to get hers to and go together then plan lunch or something fun afterwards.
4. Find the consequence of not engaging in the planned activity. If you suffer a direct and obvious consequence from not engaging in a healthy activity, it can help encourage you into repeating the healthy activity. Far off penalties don’t always motivate us in the same way as more immediate penalties. These consequences can be the disappointment of a friend or being charged for an exercise class you missed. Anything you place a value on that you may lose can become a cost of not doing the activity. Don’t go overboard with this one, but a simple no show fee of $15 might be motivating to get out of bed on a cold morning.
The start of a new year gives us an opportunity to reevaluate our lives, including our healthy and not-so-healthy habits. Make sure the change for the better remains a change for the long-term!