One sizeable part of my coaching is to help clients implement new personalised habits to empower them to achieve the results they desire, whether it is a fitness, nutrition or new lifestyle goal. For this very reason, I have researched a great deal on this subject (including online material), however, there is little written about the science of behavioural change, i.e. habits. Having spent last week reading a few scientific papers, this is an area replete with well-authored material.
Why focus on habits?
Firstly, habits promote a meaningful and long-lasting (personal) change for those that I work with. And secondly, whether we like it or not, we are our habits, and they are us. Most of our lives are led on autopilot. In fact, I’ve read some studies that say at least 80% of what we do is autonomous and 45% of daily rituals are undertaken on total autopilot, without us being even conscious of it!
We are pre-programmed…and when stressed, tired or simply not with it, our pre-programmed habits surface because there is no confusion when on autopilot. We then easily drift into ‘default' ’mode. But is your default mode promoting your overall health or jeopardising it?
How can we make our habits work for us?
Creating your own habits is about strengthening your neural pathway, it is weak at the beginning but then through repetition, it gets stronger. Our brain has a powerful habit-forming system (called the Basal ganglia), which programmes our behaviour.
The more we repeat a task, the action becomes stronger and stronger…sometimes overtaking the pre-frontal cortex.
Here are my 6 steps to creating successful and long-lasting habits
1. Willpower not motivation is the best tool to create habits
Something I found with my clients was that motivation tends to decrease with time because it becomes boring. However, willpower when combined with consistency is your winning strategy to instil new habits. The benefits of willpower are well known to psychologists. You flex your own willpower by repeating a new activity every day, like a short jog when you get out of bed, cooking fresh food or swapping those naughty snacks for berries and nuts.
You can build it up, and once you do, you can rely on it.
Willpower however has its limits too, and research suggests it decreases throughout the day. If you're tired, you are less likely to make the right decisions. So the trick is to use it in the morning and to plan and set things up for the rest of the day. Plan your evening, the food you are going to cook for example or that gym session you plan to attend and then when it comes to the evening when you can't be bothered, or you find an excuse, build your willpower by setting it in your diary and making the statement of doing it.
Another way to use your willpower efficiently is with mini-habits.
2. Mini-habits are the most efficient investment for your limited willpower.
Focus on mini habits and you will go in the right direction. Willpower can be strengthened by tiny goals at first. A little effort initially will be a comprehensive cure to limited willpower. Starting small will keep you going in the right direction. Once you are in motion it will be difficult to stop, remember Newton's Law? “Once an object is in motion it will remain in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force."
3. Going from inertia to mobility is the biggest step you need to take.
Get started and then reap the benefits. Mini-habits have a host of other benefits. Mini-habits boost your self-esteem, but by not doing anything it gradually weakens through years of high expectation. Set goals that you can easily fulfil, don't aim to be the fittest person by tomorrow, instead, practice something for 5 to 10 minutes each day. This way you will be in control, a gigantic goal can suck up time and energy and chances are you will give up. A small goal will lead you on the right path.
4. Plan and develop your mini-habits carefully.
Ask yourself why you want to do it? It should be based on what YOU do and who YOU are.
1. Define: what are your health priorities?
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2. Organise: Write your habit queues, block time to do them, set a reminder (a 5-10min slot to start with).
3. Do it!
I.e.: Make a green juice, do a metabolic workout or a 5-minute meditation.
5. Monitor your progress and don't forget to reward yourself!
Mini-habits are easy to achieve, aim to record what you do. New Apps such as ‘Lift’ or ‘Habit Streak Plan’ are perfect to document your habits. Writing it down is very powerful. By writing you are making a statement and it records it.
6. Take your time!
You want sustainability. Don't let yourself get trapped by bursts of energy. If suddenly you want to do a lot more, especially at first, e.g. 3 different things in the day instead of 1...resist the temptation. If you miss one, the next day, you will feel the drop. The disappointment of it will be counterproductive, so stick to small habits every day. See that burst of will and energy as a bonus, not as a signal to do more, and is something to celebrate - so reward yourself!
Take one step at a time; small successes every day build strong habits.
The key message here:
Instead of trying to motivate yourself to achieve daunting goals, take things one step at a time. Work on your willpower first by building up a routine of positive mini-habits. This way you will give yourself the chance to enjoy small successes every day, which will lead you on the right path while making real progress toward your true goal.
Want to find out what your health priorities are and instil personalised mini-habits to promote your health? Take the first step and contact me at email@example.com.
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