Habits –whether healthy or unhealthy –are made the same way: by repeating an action until it becomes become a pattern. And in order to take on a healthy habit, we need a reward for that behavior to keep us motivated, to make it easier to stick to, until that new habit too becomes a pattern.
When our lives are going smoothly, it seems like discipline, structure and routine carry us a good portion of the way. We’re anchored in these areas and count on them as partners to move us forward. What happens when we go through tough times, a stressful period, and our tried and true habits seemingly grind to a halt? Immediate or perhaps for the long term, our environment has changed, so let’s consider how we can navigate in a new environment with new guidelines to get to a place where we can feel good about how we are doing with our wellbeing.
Think about a habit you want to change. Be specific. Maybe you’re lax in your healthy eating at breakfast. And you may be feeling anxious; sometimes we turn to these foods as a way to suppress negative emotions. Or, you are not getting regular exercise, you can’t visit your workout facility, or your timing is restricted because you’re working from home. When our routine is disrupted, this can cause a slide of our healthful habits. So, thinking about a habit you want to change, let’s be as specific as you can.
When we are overwhelmed with living day to day when we are disrupted with new schedules, environments and routines. We want to consider starting with just one small step as a way to start or transition toward a more healthful habit. One healthy choice you can make to get a little control back in a seemingly uncontrollable time. One small choice that can be integrated into your daily life, whatever that looks right now.
OK get a post-it or your phone because we are going to write something down. Research shows that when you write down your wellness habit you have a greater chance of achieving it. So please write an I WILL statement that is realistic (for the time you are in rn) and time-stamped. For food, it might look like this if you want to increase vegetables into your lunch in the place of chips for example, you might try I will eat a side salad three times a week at lunchtime for two weeks. This is realistic because it’s not every day. It’s very specific-lunch. It’s in a two-week time frame. And I would have you note how you feel on the days you eat the salad instead of the chips please.
For exercise it might be I will walk after dinner for 15 minutes four evenings a week for three weeks. Specific-walking, reasonable, 4 of 7 nights, you get it…
So, think about how to make a small step toward a healthful habit, realistic for the lifestyle you’re in right now, and make it reasonable for the time period. And here I would have you note how you feel after moving your body with this exercise.
OK big question: What will you receive for this habit? More energy, a sense of calm, looking better, feeling stronger. For healthy eating, it might be feeling more alert in the afternoon. For exercise, it might be getting better sleep. Every habit has a reward so make sure you note yours – it will be a good motivator and reminder on days when it gets hard and you ask yourself…why am I doing this again??
To stick to your wellness habit, track your progress. It keeps you focused. Checking off your achievements is unbelievably valuable, as your brain’s reward center releases dopamine, an instant and natural high! You might also choose to share your progress with someone else for added support – we’re better together on our wellness journeys!
In challenging times, give yourself the physical and emotional space If you stumble – healthy habits are not linear! Look at any obstacles you may come across: see if there is a simple, small step back on track.
When you examine your new routine and environment and find a new way to integrate a healthy habit, consider that it’s going to look and feel different. I hope you find these tips helpful to make your habits healthier.