How are you feeling today? Health and well-being is at premium these days. I hold high hopes that everything will be better next year. But, aside from the awful COVID-19 circumstances that are extraordinary, I know that a big part of the change will also have to come from within.
The new year is for many typically the moment to start with new resolutions. But just knowing what you want to do doesn’t mean you’re actually going to put it into practice (for long). Most of us think that knowing is half the battle but it’s not. Approximately 80% of resolutions fail. But you can turn your success rate around by turning your wishes into positive habits.
To create habits you have to establish positive rituals – a routine – where you perform a series of actions in a prescribed order. What matters is consistency: repeating the same action over and over again. This creates a pathway in your brain that will make that behaviour automatic over time. That’s very useful because when we are under stress, we will regress to our most habituated ways. So this is going to give you the resilience you need to keep going.
Sounds simple, right?! But there are two key challenges when forming positive habits: first, our motivation is unreliable, and secondly our will power runs out. Here’s what you can do about it:
Start small and easy. Be consistent.
Start small with a specific routine that is very easy to do and that you want to do because it matters to you. Be clear on the reward it will give. For example, the first thing I do each morning is finish the water bottle I have on my nightstand. It helps me to quickly rehydrate my body and wake up faster and better. For me that’s essential with three young kids running around.
Research has shown that you will increase the difficulty level automatically, even if you start easy. I’ve noticed that I am drinking additional glasses of water around breakfast time now. But these extra glasses come as a bonus. It’s important to keep the baseline expectation low so that when you do more than your initial goal, it’s a win, which boosts your motivation and confidence to keep going. So don’t expect more of yourself and let bonuses be just that.
Make it practical
It is important to pay attention to the situation that will support you. Think of this in the broad sense. You can use a location, person, mood, time of day, physical object etc to anchor it. What matters is that you change the visibility and convenience (proximity) of things that you do or don’t want to be doing. By having good things visible that promote the habits you like to create, you’re more likely to take that positive action more often. For example, rather than walking to the kitchen from my bedroom, I have my water bottle right next to my bed. If it takes more than 20 seconds, you’re less likely to do it. Another practical way is to take a behaviour that is already firmly in place and then pair your new habit to it. For example, I now do a couple of stretches after I finish my water bottle.
Make it fun, trackable and reinforced.
During lockdown our days can easily become boring as we lack variety in routine. Our brain is wired to choose the easier path to save energy while craving novelty at the same time. So the trick here is to use this competing tension to your advantage. For example, science suggests a daily 30 minutes workout can boost our mood, focus, and we get healthier. But it can be very hard to find the time and motivation! However, you will find the time if you have the motivation. To get more motivation, I changed the type of exercise activities I do in the week. I go for a run or walk outdoors, spin while listening to a podcast I really enjoy, do a yoga session with kids and so on. To make it more fun add variety within your routine, and make it sociable where possible. For example, you can find online communities for almost everything.
To carve out more time, go with positive rituals that promote oscillation—so rhythmic stress and recovery. For example, I do focused work for a maximum of 90 minutes and then I take a break to get the blood flowing and to consolidate the information better. Studies show you won’t be able to effectively concentrate for much longer anyway. We are very productive and at our most creative when we are under low-to-moderate time pressure. Think about it: where were you when you had your best ideas? Use your breaks strategically to get things done that matter to you: exercise or stretch, spend time with your family, do something you enjoy etc. It will make you happier and more effective.
And don’t forget to celebrate your little wins each day. It’s really powerful to visually track your progress on a calendar or in an (habit tracker) app. The combination of positive emotion combined with consistent repetition will rewire your brain faster than without positive reinforcement.
With all this in mind, what’s your wish or concern that you’d like to resolve? Write it down by hand in an if-then plan. E.g. If I go to bed then I will put on a relaxing meditation podcast (to help me sleep better at night).
Creating a new habit will take a lot of conscious effort. That’s why I wouldn’t work on creating more than two to four super easy habits at one time or one hard one. Even if the routine is ‘easy’ there will be times that it won’t go well at all. But this doesn’t matter because if you keep consistent in the long run it will add up. Stay focused on your reward and be kind to yourself. You’ll do better next time.
You don’t need to wait until the 1st of January to make changes. What stands in your way to start today? Once you begin, it is often a lot easier to move forward. If you need help, just drop me a message. Here’s to a happier and healthier 2021!
Gertje Vanhoutte is Founder of Huddle&Learn and our international Corporate Vitality Consultant. She is also one of our experienced coaches working in our international academy. She will write blogs in 2021 and provide webinars on well-being principles. To receive more health and wellbeing at work tips follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn.