How habits are formed

How habits are formed

You know something needs to change and you know you owe it to your health to create better habits. However, you have tried changing your lifestyle a few times already and although you’ve started off with huge amounts of motivation you have also quickly found yourself unable to stick to your new routine.

The issue is, because we want to see results fast, we feel like we need to change everything in one go. We try to eat healthier, stop drinking alcohol (that alone will put you off), exercise 3 times a week and sleep more.

This is where it gets tricky as although we start with good intentions, the moment we cannot commit to all of these changes we feel like we have failed which is very demotivating. On top of that, we feel like we have to commit and stick to the plan one hundred percent and not allow for any slip-ups or mistakes. As a result having one cookie generally turns into thinking the whole plan has gone to pot, so we might as well have the rest of the cookie jar.

A much more effective way of approaching your lifestyle change is a more gradual one. You want to incorporate new habits gradually and attach them to your existing ones. For example; if you would like to drink more water, you could start your day with drinking one big glass first thing. You could attach this to your (hopefully) existing habit of brushing your teeth in the morning. Make this easy to remember by having a glass ready next to your toothbrush so you won’t forget.

The way habits work is that they need to be repeated for long enough to create a new neural pathway, that’s how it becomes an automatic reaction. Research by the University College of London has shown that on average it takes about 66 days for you to create a new habit. In other words, if you repeat a certain action often enough you won’t have to think about it anymore and it has become an automatic response.

For example, if you would like to go for a run 3 times a week for 30 minutes. You could start by building the habit by going on set days like every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The moment your schedule gets messed up because your meeting goes on for much longer or you only have 25 minutes left and still need to change. Instead of not going at all and trying again tomorrow, you will be much better off going anyway even if it is just for 15 or 20 minutes. It is much more important you create and stick to that habit, instead of doing it perfectly.

Some tips to help you get going:

  • Make sure you know “why” you want to incorporate this new habit so you can battle any “how”
  • Start with small steps. Make it so ridiculously easy you can’t possibly fail
  • Link or replace current (bad) habits to create new ones
  • Strive for improvement not perfection
  • Integrate more habits as you go, think long term progress
  • Make sure you can still have a bit of fun along the way

About the Author

Annette Paterakis is an Applied Psychologist graduate, certified EMDR therapist, Mindfulness trainer and Equicoach. She is the founder of The Third Life a training and coaching company aimed at personal development, primarily through a combination of science, stress management and mindfulness. Her customers include entrepreneurs and executives in London, Olympic athletes and the Dutch police. With a background as a professional and international equestrian rider, Annette loves being challenged and active. Her favorite sporting activities (at the moment) are yoga, strength training, running, tennis and horse riding.

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ymca | 11 April 2016