Whether it’s a New Year's resolution, Lenten promise, or just an idea in your head that you're finally taking action on forming a new habit, it can be a very challenging task. Human beings just naturally seem to opt for the path of least resistance- and creating a new habit is most certainly not that path. Even habits that we know and understand to be beneficial in the long run can be hard to form. So why is this? Why do we have such lofty and inspiring goals yet have such a hard time following through to reach them?
One answer is that sometimes we get caught up in the grandeur of our big goal - the dream - that we lose sight of the steps we need to take to get there. Without thinking of the little things, we can easily get overwhelmed and ultimately quit.
How many times have you decided to change your diet, then go on a huge planning spree, researching all about the latest research on how to lose weight or gain muscle, only to fizzle out within a week and fall back to your old ways? Or maybe your goal has been to exercise more, and you do a few great workouts, only to ultimately realize that life has gotten in the way and you haven't worked out in 3 weeks.
It's a very common story that has happened to even the best of us! I know I've experienced this more times than I'd like to count. So how do we beat this? How do we go on the path of creating new habits in life?
Here Are My Best Tips:
Focus on the little things
Not every decision has to be monumental and life-changing. Instead, think of the little things that you can do every single day that goes in the direction of your ultimate goal. Is your goal to eat healthier? Maybe the best decision isn't to just go all-in on a particularly restrictive diet. Instead, think of the little things that you can do like drinking "x" amount of glasses of water a day, or not buying snacks or junk food anymore when you go to the supermarket. Focusing on the little things is the biggest step that we can take to not become overwhelmed by the monumental goals that we're striving for. Eventually, the little things add up and before you know it you're further towards reaching your goal than ever before and it feels natural rather than forced. The goal should only be to get 1% better each day, in 1 year that’s 365% better!! It is like compound interest, you do it for your 401K, why not for yourself?
Have someone to hold you accountable
One of the most powerful tools that we have are the supportive people we have around us. This can be family, friends, or even our doctors and co-workers. I've had many patients come in to tell me during our sessions that they are starting to work towards eating healthier. Some have detailed plans, others have more general goals like drinking more water or cutting out sugar. What they all have in common, however, is that they are all sharing their goals with others for accountability purposes. It helps to have some pressure and people to help guide you through this process. It also helps to reaffirm your goals to yourself by saying them out loud and to others. Even writing down your goals on pieces of paper can add accountability and strengthen your new habit. This is the very reason we tend to like group classes, working with personal trainers or coming to Physical Therapy consistently.
Follow the 2- day rule
The 2-day rule is simple. If you're working to achieve a new habit, you can not go more than 2 days without working towards that goal. For example, if your goal is to exercise more often, by following the 2-day rule you cannot go more than 2 days without exercising. Say, for example, you have a long day at work one night and cannot go to the gym, or maybe it's raining outside and you can't go for your daily walk- by following the 2-day rule, this means that no matter what, the next day you must exercise. This means that if it's still raining, you do a walking routine inside your home, or if you're working late again the next night, you should do a shorter truncated workout. The point is that you are never allowing yourself to fall back outside of your habit. Think of the example I gave in the first paragraph- if you follow the 2-day rule, you'll never wake up one morning and realize that you've somehow stopped working out for the past 3 weeks.
Alter your environment
So as we've established, forming a new habit can be a very daunting task. What can make it even more daunting is being surrounded by temptations. Think of this for example, how hard will it be to cut out sugar when your house is full of snacks? On the flip side, how much easier would it be to keep your habit when there's no temptation to eat at the place you spend the most time at (be it home, or at work). Changing your environment is one of those little things that have a huge impact on your process of reaching your goals. Don't buy food that will distract you from your goal, even if your rationale is that it's for someone in your family and not for you. If you're trying to exercise more, pack a gym bag the night before and leave it in your car, at your desk at work, or by the door you leave on the way out. Change your environment to set yourself up for success, not failure!
Sometimes it's good to not have a timeline
Remember, forming habits is all about making little changes over time. Some people can go cold- turkey and be fine while others need to ramp up into things- either way is great! If you are having trouble with the temptations, however, it may be a good idea to think about the type of person you are and whether or not it's good to have a timeline for your goals. If your goal is to eat healthier, for example, it may not be such a good idea to have an end timeline for this goal. For example, it's very common to hear people say "I'm going to do this diet for one month". The unfortunate thing with this is that in this mindset, there is an end to your goal. This is the opposite of forming a new habit! Instead, it could be very beneficial for many people to think of the changes they are making as slow, gradual, and permanent. Maybe it doesn't end up being permanent- maybe at a certain point in time (be it after a month, a year, 10 years), you decide to make other changes or ease up on your habits- like going from not eating any sugar to allowing yourself to eat sugar once a week. The point is, however, that from the get-go, there is no definitive endpoint established. Mentally this is game-changing, as it helps you to subconsciously accept the importance of what you're doing and help you to maintain those habits in the long run.
Be open to changing the plan
Be open to adjusting and changing along the way! You may hear about something that you could be doing that is even better than what you started with. The attitude shouldn’t be, well “that was a waste of time” but rather, “I’m grateful to have found this new thing”. It is very possible that you wouldn't have learned this new thing if it hadn’t been for the first change you made. I think of this as the “Domino effect”. You implemented something different and new and this change was the first Domino. Very often that first Domino created momentum and things really start changing and happening for the better. My advice here is, figure out what the ONE thing is that you can do that will make everything else very easy and doable. That’s your starting point. The Universe will take care of the rest!
Forming new habits isn't about making life-altering changes overnight. It's not even about the one habit itself- it's all about making impactful lifestyle changes and thinking about the big picture. Forming a new habit can be an easier experience than we think if we can create a plan and design ways to make it easier to stick to that plan.
At Universus Physical Therapy, very often we are talking to our patients about what the ONE thing could be for them and we help them put the wheels in motion for change to happen! If you are struggling with a physical ailment, perhaps it’s been a chronic problem, we can help. Our examination includes a full look at your body (head to toe), where the imbalances are, what needs strengthening, what needs lengthening and HOW you can make these changes in order to achieve your goals!