You work all day, stop by the local McDonald’s on the drive home to grab dinner, then you sit on the sofa for the rest of the evening stuffing your face with greasy fries and binging on the latest and greatest phenomenon to be produced by Netflix. Before you know it, it’s midnight and you’ve accomplished nothing valuable.
Just imagine all the things you could have accomplished in those 6 hours! Seriously, think about it.
In a 6-hour period, you can clean the house, play with your kids, meet friends for coffee or drinks, write a letter, make a healthy dinner, have conversations with your family that don’t involve a screen, read several chapters in a book, take a walk, brainstorm ideas for your newest business venture, put in some focused time to your hobby, write in your journal…. And the list goes on and on.
I don’t know about you, but when I compare an evening of mindless TV-watching while slurping on a 42-ounce soda to an evening where I’m improving my life, relationships, and mind, I have to pick the latter!
Do you want more? I know I do.
Do you have several goals and dreams (or maybe just a little to-do list for today) that you want to accomplish? Are you like me sometimes and feel like you’ll never get anywhere in life? Or maybe you keep getting distracted and nothing ever really happens.
The secret to big change is in little habits.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle
We all have habits, both good and bad. Maybe, when you think of habits, you remember your mom nagging you to stop biting your nails as a kid. Or maybe you think of eating too many sweets or falling asleep with the television on.
Habits are what make up our lives. Habits either help or hurt us. Habits matter.
I’ve always heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but there have been recent studies that suggest it takes longer, maybe up to 60 days. Some even say it takes 90 days to create a lifestyle change. But, to be honest, a number of days isn’t what matters. To form a habit, you simply keep mindfully doing the thing you’ve set out to do until you don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s probably a different number for each person.
You have to give yourself long enough to be faced with a situation that might derail you before you can truly have a good habit. For example, if you’re trying to give up sugar, you can’t say you’ve reached that goal after only 2 days of avoiding sugar. Your body hasn’t even had enough time to really detox yet!
So, let’s dive in! What are some practical ways to change our habits and reach our goals?
First of all, you need to know that there is no quick fix or magical formula for changing your habits. It takes time, determination, and willpower. Habit formation is the process by which new behaviors become automatic. The keyword here is “automatic.” If you eat 5 cookies every night before bed, you’ve formed an unhealthy habit. Or if you run a mile every morning before work, you’ve formed a healthy habit. Habits are automatic because they are etched into the neural pathways of our brains.
Steps to creating healthy habits:
Realize that this isn’t working for you and that you want to change.
This step is hard for us because we love cozying up in our comfort zones! “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix, it,” right? The real issue here is allowing ourselves to see that is IS, in fact, “broke.”
If the foods you eat make you happy at the time, but they make you feel awful later on, something isn’t right. This isn’t the best lifestyle for you. If spending hours watching Netflix leaves your to-do list unchecked and your family’s needs unmet, there is a problem.
One of the most important factors in changing your habits is commitment. You have to want something so badly that you are willing to give up short-term gratification to get it.
Determine what’s holding you back.
Find the barriers and tackle them. If making poor food choices is your problem, look around your kitchen. Is your pantry filled with unhealthy choices? And if you’re trying to stop hitting snooze in the morning, why is your alarm clock within arm’s reach?
Going deeper, something that often holds us back is a belief that we are stuck and can’t make the changes we need to make. This is called a fixed mindset, and it’s a dangerous place to be.
I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, “I wish I could do that, but I’m just not strong enough!” It’s a lie!
Related Post: Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
Determine your goal and identify the habits to be formed.
Small habits make big goals.
If your goal is to lose weight, then your habits might be to stop drinking soda and start working out every day. If your goal is to make more friends, then your habit might be to reach out to at least one person a day. If your goal is to have better mornings, then your habits might be to get up earlier, eat a healthy breakfast, and read a chapter.
Take the time to write out your goals and think of what it will take to reach them. Also, think about your motivation. Having a reason for changing your habits will keep you focused and motivated.
Related Post: 7 Morning Habits That Will Change Your Life
Start out small.
Okay, lovelies, let’s not set ourselves up for failure from the start. There is no reason to make our first habit something like, “Stop smoking in 2 days” or “Run 5 miles by the end of the week.
The first step is to train your brain to stick to something, even if it’s small. Maybe you can commit to getting up 5 minutes earlier or walking for 15 minutes on your lunch hour. Sometimes we need to believe we’re capable of doing something difficult before we can make big changes.
Track your habits.
Our brains crave rewards. Are you one of those people who makes lists just for the satisfaction of checking items off? I am, 100%. We like to feel like we’ve accomplished something, don’t we?
A really simple way to see your progress (which you will need on those days you don’t think you can keep going) is to use a habit tracker. All you do is list the habits you want to work on and mark them off each time you do them. Piece of cake! (Not eating cake is a good habit to start, by the way.)
Tracking your habits also creates accountability and it keeps things at the forefront of your mind.
Don’t make exceptions. Cheat days are illogical.
I have never understood this concept. You make the wildly huge decision to eat healthier, but you reward yourself with unhealthy eating. How does this even make sense? If you are trying to train your body and brain to crave whole foods, why would you confuse them by saying that bad foods are a treat?
Commit and don’t look back.
Be patient with yourself; it takes time.
This was a really hard concept for me to learn. I am a recovering perfectionist, and the idea of progress being enough was foreign to me. I am the girl who wants to run 5 miles by the end of the week!
Listen, you are going to face obstacles. You just are. There will be days you just want to be done. You will have weak moments and just want to go back to the way things used to be.
Please don’t give up. Know that you are going to face these obstacles, and have a plan for them. If you’re trying to cut out fast food, don’t let yourself get hungry! Have snacks in your bag or in your desk. On days that you don’t have the energy to run, don’t just sit on the sofa. Take a walk instead! Don’t let your brain get lazy.
Celebrate progress and victories, even the small ones.
Be proud of yourself! When you decide to intentionally make changes in your life, you’re doing something that many people are afraid to do. You’re making a better life!
Set incremental goals for yourself. If you go to bed on time for 5 nights in a row, be happy! If you’re able to run a little farther today than you did yesterday, pat yourself on the back.
If you don’t celebrate the small wins, you’ll be more likely to give up when you haven’t reached the final goal quickly enough.
Do you have any tips for creating good habits? Share in the comments below!