If creating good wellness habits was easy we would all have them in place and be practising them daily, but this is not the case. And that isn’t because we ‘can’t’ or ‘aren’t capable’, it just isn’t as easy as we maybe think it is. Let’s take a look at why, and how you can start creating better habits today.
The Habit Loop
Most addictive and destructive habits have a built-in reward system that requires little or no input from you. Smoking a cigarette, eating excessive sugar, or drinking yourself into oblivion are all easy habits to adopt because they light up your brain dopamine (and many more ‘happy’ chemicals). These substances naturally reward your brain and encourage continued usage, even though they are detrimental to your overall health and well-being.
On the other hand, many positive habits such as exercise, meditation, focused work, and healthy eating don’t have immediately obvious rewards. Yes, after extended practice, exercise, meditation, and focused work will all become activities that naturally stimulate your brain in positive ways and reward you for taking action. But they need a little bit of help to get started.
Finding a motivating reward can be applied to any habit if you are creative enough:
- Eat dark chocolate after your meditation.
- Buy a time-based coffee maker that has a fresh cup brewed when you wake up.
- Allow 10mins ‘me time’ after journaling.
If you are struggling to make a new habit stick, then you probably aren’t aware or consciously applying the habit loop.
Try to think of a way that you can reward yourself whilst you get going to help produce some of those ‘happy’ hormones.
Your Brain Wants to Keep You Safe
Your brain is not keen on change or you feeling uncomfortable (which is often the case when starting something new) so it will try to discourage you, it is just doing its job of trying to protect you but in this case it is very counterproductive. Be careful of negative self-talk, thinking you ‘can’t’ or making excuses to yourself. This is all part of its nasty tricks! Notice when this is happening and rationalise what you are thinking, ask yourself ‘is this true?’ ‘is what I am thinking fact?’. Being aware of these brain tricks is really helpful.
Start Small and Build
Don’t go from never working out to trying to workout 5x a week for 2hours a day, this is not sustainable. It’s the same with meditation, changing eating habits and any well-being and mental health technique.
Start with 2 days a week for 5mins, journaling, meditation, gratitude diary. There are lots of really short techniques you can implement. Then build on this until it is 5 mins 5 days a week. At this point you might want to go for 10mins then 20mins. `It is not a race, enjoy the journey. If you don’t enjoy the journey, it will be difficult to stick to.
Never Miss Twice
You WILL mess up and slip on your habits, that’s OK. What is important is that you brush yourself of and get going again straight away, don’t leave it and miss multiple days of practise. Get straight back to it on your next scheduled day.
It’s ok to miss one workout in a week, but don’t let it extend to 2 or 3. It’s ok to miss one day of meditation practice, but you had better get your butt on a yoga mat tomorrow.
If you follow the rule of “Never Miss Twice” you can fail your way to any goal you desire.
Understanding What You Want, and How What You are Doing WILL Get You There
This is really important in many areas and in business I am sure you have looked at your WHY. It is really important to understand this in personal and wellness goals also, if you don’t have a clear WHY then there is a lack of a driving point.
Think about your future self, who you want to be and how you want to feel. Create a vision board around this and use mantras if this is something that helps you. Do you want to always deal with stress in the same way? Would you like to be less reactive? Do you want to move through times of low motivation in a more productive way? Do you want to be a confident person? The list could go on! Have a really clear think about WHO you want to be.
I often get asked to provide Yoga, Meditation etc into companies but I have to question ‘why’? Do your employees understand what these are, how they work to balance emotions, what happens to the brain and hormones in practise? No? So why are they going to engage?
It is the same with creating and habits, understand the relevance of the habit you are trying to create. Research how journaling works, what to expect in meditation practise and the science behind breathing techniques. Give yourself a good basic understanding of WHAT you are doing and HOW it is going to get you closer to your WHY.
Trial and error
Not everyone is going to find the perfect technique for them straight away! You might try a few, this doesn’t mean there is no hope for you or that you can’t improve and create good well-being habits. It just means you still haven’t found the right one for you. We are all different and what works for us is going to also be different.
Try different things, give it a period of time and if you don’t think it is for you look for another option. There are lots!
Once you have found the technique that fits you will be on your way.
Putting Structures in Place – Convenience, proximity and visibility
Researcher Brian Wansink done a lot of research on how will power is not enough to create good habits. In his research he looked at proximity, convenience and visibility and how these simple processes can go a long way to helping you change your habits for better or worse.
- Changing the visibility and proximity of the stuff we don’t want to do – Here some admin staff were put to the test these staff members were all trying to eat healthy so sweets were put across the office for some, on their desks for some and inside their desk drawers for some. The results were that they ate 48% more sweets if they were on their desk than if it was a couple of meters away. And 25% less when they were in their desk draw.
And the convenience was put to the test with the kitchen counter experiment.
- Having unhealthy food on your kitchen counter = average 10kg weight gain.
- Having fruit on your kitchen counter = on average 5-10kg weight loss.
Make reminders, post it notes, diary reminders, something on your computers home screen. Make sure everywhere you look there is a reminder of what you are supposed to be doing, and make the process easy, put your journal on your desk, have an affirmation book open. Whatever you need to do to make sure you are making time, space and a non-negotiable moment to improve yourself.
Some other things to consider when setting up well-being goals:
- Nudges – used by masses to influence you to buy thing, eat things, do thing quicker/slower. But can we implement these and use the process to do POSITIVE things!? YES…. Of course.
- People are influenced by other people, peers, seniors and mentors. Surround yourself with like-minded people, if the people around you don’t support you making positive changes their negativity will effect your judgement.
- Goal setting, with baby steps and a good plan. Classic and effective. Must have check ins.
If you are unsure what habit you want to start with take a look at Melp , there are hundreds of easy to follow tools and techniques you can access here.
Books to read –
- The 5 Second Rule, Mel Robbins
- High Performance Habits, Brendon Burchard
- Start with Why, Simon Sinek
- Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy