If you’ve ever set out with the best intentions to commit to new healthy habits… then fallen short only a few days later, you’re not alone. Behavior change is HARD. But it is possible. The problem is, most people focus on the wrong things, so their goal continues to feel out of reach.
Consider a healthy habit you would like to incorporate into your life, then ask yourself these five questions to make sure you can succeed. Without following them, you could find yourself right back where you started, but by trying something different, you may just find success with a LOT more ease than ever before.
Healthy Habits: Questions to Create Consistency
1. Is your healthy habit small enough?
When most people commit to a new resolution, they shoot for the stars. They decide to lose 20 pounds, so they hit the gym 6 days per week, 1 hour per day. By day four, they’re so sore and tired that they decide to take the day off… which turns into a few weeks or months before they realize that damnit — they’ve been foiled again! It’s time to try again, so they repeat the same exact cycle. The same actions lead to the same results, and the maddening cycle of insanity continues.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve gone through that cycle enough times to know it leads to nowhere, and to be ready for something different. So here it is. Harvard-trained psychologist Martha Beck, in her book the 4-Day Win, recommends chunking your healthy habit down in the beginning, to the point where it feels so easy that you could OBVIOUSLY complete the task. She found that if people started small, gaining just enough momentum to hit four days in a row, they started to feel and see enough of a difference (even if it was realistically minor) that they were eager to keep going. Over time, they increased the duration or intensity of their habit by upping the ante after every successful four day cycle.
For example, instead of attempting hour-long sessions at the gym as a starting place… can you commit to even just 5 minutes of movement? Even in your own home? You can almost certainly find 5 minutes to do a few push-ups or squats, even while watching TV. While that’s not going to get you a 6-pack at the end of week one, chances are you WILL prove to yourself that you can commit to your goals and be hungry for more at the end of the four days. (Versus already being over your plans as with the other approach.)
Start small for big results.
2. Is your healthy habit obvious enough?
Why does brushing your teeth or showing in the morning come so easily? Because you’ve built neural circuitry to do those things, likely around the same time and place, every day for years. You probably even start brushing your teeth on the same side without eleven realizing it. In order to cement NEW habits, in the beginning you will have to help those neural pathways out. Teach your brain what you want to do by making it OBVIOUS.
For example, if you want to drink more water, fill up a water bottle at night, then put it in your purse so it’s with you when you go to work in the morning. If you want to take supplements, place the jar in front of your bathroom sink so you see it when you wake up. If you want to read instead of zoning out in front of the TV every night, place a book in front of your TV and read a few pages before jumping on the tube.
Your brain WANTS to help you. In the beginning, it may just need some reminders on what to do. Train it as patiently and lovingly as you would a furry friend — and remember the machinery you have is possibly even more brilliant and capable.
3. Does this work with my natural rhythm?
Maybe you’ve spent years trying to be a morning person, when in reality, you want nothing more than to hit snooze when you wake up. What would happen if, instead of trying for the 30th year in a row to hit the gym in the morning, you realized that you may just never be THAT person, and gave yourself permission to try another time?
I speak with compassion because I USED to be this person, forcing the gym at times of day when my energy was lowest. Once I began experimenting with lunch breaks, I found that I began to relish the mid-day break and come back to work revived and energized.
Where are you going against your body’s rhythms? Maybe you’re starting a side hustle but only have the end of the day to work on it, when your energy is completely flat. What would happen if you worked on your commute, your lunch break, or the first 30 minutes of your day? Maybe you continually try to make dinner after a busy work day, when you know you’re so famished that you’ll reach for the first three bags of chips you see in the cupboard? Instead, try prepping meals for the week so you can save your post-work energy, or putting a snack bar in your bag to give you an extra boost until you make it home.
Nature always wins. Schedule your habits accordingly!
4. Do you have a strong enough why?
Sure, being healthy and fit LOOKS good but is that the ONLY reason you want to do it? Or is there a bigger reason, such as being able to play with your kids without feeling winded, extend your lifespan to make it on a bucket-list trip, or be able to feel like your most confident self before a major event?
A nice-to-have can sustain momentum for a few days or maybe even weeks, but a powerful enough WHY can sustain momentum for months or even years.
5. How does your healthy habit make you feel?
Lastly, remember that there are literally THOUSANDS of ways to achieve your goals. Make sure you aren’t choosing a habit that makes you feel terrible along the way.
For example, if you want to lose weight but hate running… you’re doing it wrong, haha! (Said with love.) Try dancing, yoga, kick-boxing, weight-lifting, or walking. I personally got into the habit of working out by deciding I could do whatever I felt like doing for one hour per day. I could go on a walk, hit the spin bikes, play an on-demand toning workout, go to a barre class, dance around my bedroom… it didn’t matter, as long as I moved my body each day. This freedom made me begin to look forward to that hour, because I was listening to and honoring what my body WANTED each day, versus forcing it into something it hated.
Give yourself permission to reach your goal in a way that feels fun and pleasurable to you. Or, ask yourself how you can infuse MORE fun and pleasure into what you’re currently doing. I promise you that your body will be FAR easier to entrain, and your brain will follow.
It’s not your (or our) fault that we approach healthy habits a certain way. We’re fed messaging from magazines — lose 20 pounds in 20 days! — our families, our surroundings, our PAST habits… next time you’re ready to embark on creating change in your life, or feeling stuck in the same old system of start/stop/repeat, ask yourself these questions and see if there are any areas where you can experience more success with less friction!
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P.S. More on this topic: EMBODYING: Who Is Next-Level You? What Is She Like? and How to Get Everything You Want This Year: Ultimate Goal-Setting Hacks.