Habit change is just not easy. But what if:
▪ your healthcare provider just told you to lose weight;
▪ you’ve been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and you have to change your diet;
▪ or like me, you’ve been prescribed walking, exercises to help back pain.
Reaction? First you might be stunned. Then you think: this could be a good thing. Then: I can do this. But after your first walk or your first trip to the grocery to stock up on vegetables, you push the idea for change aside. There are other things in your life that come first. You dream about a pill that could fix it and you’re done. You admit to yourself: this is hard.
It is hard, because it means changing your habits. I have to change some of my habits and create new ones. But can I really do this with everything else on my plate?
Looking at the nature of habits, it’s easy to see why we are all entrenched in them. Habits can make up large portions of our days, our lives. Could this be you? I know it’s me:
▪ street repair blocks your route to work; alternatives lengthen your trip time;
▪ your relaxing Tuesday night show is suddenly cancelled;
▪ your bank changes the online bill-paying format you’re used to;
▪ your regular doctor retires.
All these things require change and adjustment. They were part of habitual living that’s easy to slip into like a comfortable pair of slippers. But with patience we can find an interim route, learn the banking format, do something else on Tuesday nights and adjust to another doctor. Life is full of bumps in the road. But losing weight, changing diets, quitting smoking, and doing regular exercise—that’s more like climbing a mountain.
How to start. Buy a journal or create a computer file to keep track of everything needed to insure success. Then (and this is where the rubber hits the road)—
▪ Determine an attainable goal for habit change and write it down.
Which goal complies: a. I will lose 20 pounds in one month. b. I will lose five pounds in one month.
The second goal is more attainable. Attempting a difficult goal right at the start can often be a roadmap for failure. Even a small brush with failure can make it much harder to get started again. It’s true that people change when they are ready to change. Be aware that difficult goals can really be a form of self-sabotage. It’s like looking for an excuse to say I just can’t do this. But all of us can if we set realistic and attainable goals.
▪ Create a plan for habit change that is realistic, specific and motivating. Write it down in as much detail as needed.
Which plan complies:
a. I will run every day and cut out all sweets.
b. I will walk for 20 minutes 3 times a week and only eat sweets at dessert on the weekends.
The first plan is not specific enough and much too taxing. The second plan is more specific and allows for a day off now and again. Creating a plan that is doable increases your motivation and helps you visualize success.
▪ Write down your major motivation for wanting to succeed with your goal, one that could lead to lasting change.
Which plan complies:
a. I want to look good for my high school reunion.
b. There is diabetes in my family; if I lose weight and watch my carbohydrates, I could avoid this chronic condition.
c. I can’t afford cigarettes because I didn’t get a raise, so I guess I’ll quit.
d. Smoking causes lung cancer and there’s cancer in my family. I need to quit cause I want to keep on hiking, someday take my grandchildren with me.
Note: Having solid, research-oriented information to back up a habit change increases your motivation and helps you stay on track.
▪ Find mentors who will support you and help you achieve your goal. Make sure you have their email addresses handy and their numbers in your cell phone.
Talking about the habit changes we are going to make points us in the right direction for achieving our goals. Mentors can help us stay on track only if they know about the stop-smoking patch, the limit on beers or carbohydrate intake. And if those close to us cannot be mentors, then finding a support group, people who are working on the same habit changes, is a good option. It’s your health. It’s my health. We need people to help us make it happen.
▪ Write down obstacles and roadblocks to success. Being aware of them and dealing with them before habit change increases chances for success.
Want to lose weight, stop smoking? Remove junk food from the kitchen, the cigarettes hidden in various places. Replace these obstacles with things that will bolster success: fruits and vegetable snacks at home and work; gum to chew, water to drink to fight cigarette cravings. Eliminate excuse obstacles: purchase ahead of time good running or walking shoes; know where there’s an indoor facility for exercise when the weather is inclement. Plan for obstacles and eliminate as many as possible before starting a new habit. Success can’t tolerate excuses.
▪ Watch out for triggers.
A trigger is really a set back; it denies the goals of habit change. Examples: people with Type 2 diabetes needing to lose weight going to a fast-food restaurant—there’s little on the menu low in carbs and the smell of the Big Mac might be too tempting. Watching TV can be a trigger—TV and junk food often go together. Solution: keep junk food out of the house or when the craving starts, go for a walk to get back on track and forget the craving.
Smokers often struggle with these triggers: waking up, drinking coffee, having a drink with a friend. Plan ahead and create substitutes for triggers: a shower upon awakening, a piece of candy, a bottle of water for oral gratification.
Keep track of the successes that defeat triggers: the exercise that blocked out the cigarette craving; the no-butter popcorn for a TV snack; and the fruit yogurt eaten instead of cake at the birthday party. It’s gold star time. Avoiding triggers increases commitment to habit change and reaching healthy goals. That’s huge. True motivation.
▪ A few other things to consider: difficulty.
It will be hard at first. Statistics show that people drop out before 20-30 days of a plan. But it’s like anything, the longer we can stay in the game, the easier it will become. Staying power is the key. Planning ahead of time, being aware of obstacles and triggers will outline the path to success.
▪ It’s the weight of the habit change that matters.
Often we hear people say—I’m a disciplined person. Habits are easy for me: every day I make my coffee, read the paper and walk the dog. But those are lightweight, second nature kind of habits that take about twenty minutes. Changing a life-long diet to lose weight, quitting smoking, doing things for your health overall requires months and staying power into years. What smoker hasn’t considered the 20 years of the habit that is pushing against a major change in days and weeks? And the change has to be permanent. The weight of the change is heavy. It’s not a bump in the road—it’s that mountain.
Finally: education helps us reach our goals. Losing weight? There are menus and recipes by the thousands, numerous exercises, sports and activities to help burn calories. Trying to stop smoking or drinking? Get online and read articles and research to help with goal setting. I always research and bring questions to my healthcare provider. I want a medical basis for the exercises that will help my back. We will succeed—with goals, plans and habit change one day at a time.
PS. Leo Babauta AGAIN offers great incite as to how to encourage someone you care about to change a habit. Here’s what he suggests:
- Never attack — empathize. Never tell the person they’re doing something wrong, or imply they’re a bad or undisciplined or lazy person. Assume that they have the best of intentions, that they would change if they could, but they feel bad about it. Assume that you would feel the same if you were in their position — and try to remember a time when you felt that way. Don’t be patronizing, nor “sympathize”. That’s condescending.
- Inspire. Set an example, and share what’s working for you. Share stories of other people who have overcome problems.
- Suggest something do-able. And do it with them. If you want them to tackle health issues, suggest the two of you go walking after work every day. Just for 15 minutes (at first). It’s a nice way to socialize and bond, but also get active. This is a small step that can be built upon — later you can walk further, or faster, and maybe add some jogging intervals to the walking after a few weeks or months (health permitting). You can also later do some diet challenges. But the key is to make the steps do-able, easy, and social.
- Offer to be an accountability buddy. If the other person admits to not being motivated, suggest that they commit to you, and be accountable to you (email you every day or every week to share progress or lack thereof). Suggest that they set a fun consequence (something embarrassing) if they don’t live up to their commitment to you. Or do a challenge, where the two of you are doing something fun at the same time — a pushup challenge, a thousand-steps challenge, an eat-more-vegetables challenge.
Thanks to: Google Images