Think about a healthy habit that you find easy to maintain. Hands up who brushed their teeth this morning? Of course you did. Was it a hassle? Was it a major effort of willpower to convince yourself to do it? Of course not. You just got up, wandered into the bathroom and started brushing. Brushing your teeth is an effortless healthy habit you put into practice twice a day without even thinking about it.
Why is it so easy?
1. Your action is in congruence with a deeply held belief, drummed into you since childhood, that oral health is important. There is no internal dialogue about whether brushing teeth is a good thing or not, you have already decided it is, so you act accordingly.
2. It's set up for you in a way that's convenient and easy to act on. The toothbrush is right next to the sink, with the toothpaste and it happens at a regular time of day which further anchors the habit.
3. We get an almost instant reward for carrying out the behaviour. Our teeth feel clean and nice and we can deliver a good morning kiss without fear of embarrassment.
Can we use these principles to establish other healthy habits?
For sure. We need to make sure we cover all three steps.
1. We deeply believe in why we are doing it.
2. We make it convenient and easy to carry out
3. We build in some sort of reward, especially if the activity itself isn't yet intrinsically rewarding because it takes longer for the benefits to be apparent.
An example: Habit we want to establish: reduce coffee
intake, no coffee after midday.
1. Why: We are not enjoying feeling so wired and want to be able to sleep more soundly.
2. Ease: We make it convenient by stocking up on a load of herbal teas and good quality decaf coffee in our desk drawer and at home.
3. Reward: A non-food based treat after four days of successfully carrying it out eg. Meet with friends/ new magazine/ night at movies.
Don't underestimate the value of having simple systems set up that support the change you want to effect. The pair of trainers at work, the yoga mat in the boot of the car, the stash of herbal teas in the desk drawer can all make keeping the habit up as low-maintenance as cleaning your teeth. I have a couple of friends who believe green smoothies are the best way to start the day, but find mornings juggling getting the kids off to school just too frantic to make it happen regularly.
One now spends a few minutes on a Sunday doing five little ziplock bags of spinach, kiwifruit, apple, etc so all she has to do on Monday morning is grab the bag out of the fridge and throw the contents straight into the blender. The other simply outsources it and has them delivered fresh weekly. Introducing simple systems that support habits can be the difference between them sticking or not.
What simple processes or systems could you put in place to support the healthy habits you want to establish? It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. It's much more about reducing the hassle factor so it's easier to do it, than to not do it. Just like cleaning your teeth!