Creating New Healthy Habits, Part 2

Change? Who has time for change?

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Now that we’re exiting February and approaching March, I have to ask, “how are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?” I’m sorry. I’m only half kidding…

We all have the best intentions when we create those resolutions, don’t we? Exercise more, eat less, sleep more, spend less, and the list goes on and on. The fact of the matter is that we are all want to do better! But so many of us just can’t seem to find the time or don’t know how to get started. (hint, the goals are way too unrealistic for your brain to go along for the ride).

So if you bagged on your resolutions already, that’s alright. You’re like the other 65% of Americans (probably higher than that). Now you are ready for the real change. Putting effort into habits that will stick with you.

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about a podcast in which Dr. Christine Carter discusses eight steps to building healthy habits. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and read it. Do it now. I’ll wait.

In that blog, I covered Dr. Carter’s first four steps of her change process and also included a link to her second podcast, which includes the last four steps.

The more and more I thought about, though, I felt that just didn’t do the last four steps enough justice. So I’m going to discuss her last four steps here in more detail. Yeah, it’s THAT important!

So here they are: the last four steps in Part II of the podcast, Getting in Good Habits.

How to Change Your Habits (part 2)

 (5) Pick a super-easy first step. Now we aren’t talking about a goal like, “exercise more.” Because that is not only non-specific,  but it also can be super intimidating. So Dr. Carter suggests picking a teeny tiny first step, something that will literally take less than 30 seconds. And even if you’re tempted to jump to the next step immediately after this one, don’t!  Trust me – if you do this step over and over again, your brain will eventually recognize it as a new habit.

You can do it challenge: Decide what that “teeny tiny” first step will be. (and let me know about it in the comments) I challenge you to think what is the LEAST you can do to change the habit and work with that first then move on. 

For example, if you tend to eat when you aren’t hungry. Many of my clients deal with eating when bored, stressed, or feeling emotional on some level. Your first step should not be “stop emotional eating” (LOL!) If you knew how to do it, you would already be there. But the first step may be. Spend 30 seconds thinking about the choice, asking if I am hungry, bored, or just interested in eating. Asking would I eat this at a table with no TV or other distractions. Then, decide. Taking that crucial “pause” can be short – just 30 seconds – and even if you still want to eat something, maybe you do and maybe you don’t. But the point is, you started asking question. See what I mean?

(6)  Anchor your first step. Instead of creating a whole new schedule for your first step, try anchoring that step into an existing routine. Dr. Carter uses the example of flossing. If you’re already in the habit of brushing your teeth, maybe that teeny tiny first step is getting the floss out with your toothpaste.

I love that idea… again with the emotional eating example, you could start brushing your teeth immediately after dinner and getting water or herbal tea to give your hands something to do while you watch TV – and hey, it’s hydrating! Two-for-one. Another idea is to anchor getting a drink to walking into the kitchen and then taking your 30 second pause to figure out why you are there — physical hunger or emotional hunger?

(7) Visualize success. This might sound unnecessary, but believe me…it’s critical; the whole point of these steps is to rewire your brain into recognizing a new habit. So spend just a few minutes actually thinking about what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’ll feel once you reach your goal. It’s okay, you can revel a bit. 🙂

Also important in this step is thinking about what some potential obstacles are and how you’ll overcome them if they actually happen. For example, let’s say your goal is meditation. What will you do if the phone rings in the middle of your meditation time?

Obstacles are a big thing with emotional eating, I suggest anticipating the types of obstacles you face and plan a healthy and sustainable work around. (If you need help, see a therapist or RD like me who specializes in Intuitive Eating and/or disordered eating patterns.)

(8) Celebrate! Every single time you do this super-easy first step, it’s time to celebrate! You don’t literally need to throw yourself a party everyday, but giving yourself a mental high-five is a good practice to have; it reinforces your habit and goshdarnit, it feels good.

You can do it challenge: Decide what that teeny tiny first step will be. (and let me know about it in the comments)

So, it’s cold. You hate the gym. You’re busy. But you want to incorporate exercise into your life. Somehow. How do you get started? Well, what’s the tiniest step you can think of? Maybe that step is putting sneakers by the front door with your work shoes. Or maybe on your walk to lunch you add another 30 seconds by taking a slightly different route. Or maybe instead of changing into the usual casual outfit after work, you change into workout clothes instead. Or maybe it’s something else. But whatever it is, make sure it’s small, easily achievable, and something you can celebrate once it’s done (because let’s be honest, you’ve got this!).

Anyone can do something for 30 seconds, right? So, let’s start there. The only thing you have to remember is to start small and practice that ridiculously small step over and over again. After all, practice makes…perfect-ly healthy habits. 🙂 If you follow these steps mindfully, your brain will join you in partnership…I promise!

You can do this!

What’s your habit goal and first step? Tell me in the comments below.

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