People ask me how I stay so dedicated to my wellness practice and how I can help them do the same. I tell them it’s all about aligning their intentions (be that living a healthier existence, eating better, moving more, preventing stress reactions, etc.) with their culture. But what does that really look like? How do we take the first steps? We used to say that people were creatures of HABIT, but now most people who study long-term healthy living believe we’re more creatures of CULTURE. Still, habits are really just repetitive behaviors that we act on both consciously and subconsciously. They’re a big part of our culture and fall under the “behaviors” category when we define what culture is. So if we’re looking at the pieces of your daily wellness practice, habits are a vital focus. The trouble with long-term habits counter to our wellness practice is the grooves we dig each time we act on them. Still, psychology tells us that positive actions can have even deeper grooves over the long term, because we’re wired to thrive and feeling good, well…feels good!
For example, smoking tobacco is definitely about the addiction to nicotine, but it’s also a lot more than that. It’s the ritual or habit of smoking; the time of day, the people who surround us and offer us companionship within the habit, and the stress relief many feel after smoking. That’s huge! So quitting smoking is a lot more than just dropping the nicotine habit. Ask anyone who’s gone on a pharmaceutical or over the counter cessation tool and still really missed the habit or ritual of daily smoking even though their brains were receiving less and less nicotine to help ease the withdrawals. Smokers have deep “habit grooves” that get deeper each time they smoke. Luckily, new grooves can always be made.
When I look back on how I built my multi-level wellness practice, I see the series of healthier habits I built over the years; layers and layers of them. I see where sometimes I tackled too much and got frustrated; and I see where I thrived by adding in positives over time, rather than focusing on negatives and things to “remove” from my life. I see every habit I practice in alignment with my wellness goals as a positive part of my life, not a chore. Sure, I don’t always feel up for the day’s workout, but I know I’ll feel a lot better after I go through with it, so that drives me to keep going. To keep digging those habit grooves.
I just came across this app that can help with habit building for people who like being held accountable through technology. It’s called Streaks and you get to set up whatever habits you want to work on, such as sleeping better, reading more, going for walks, eating more greens, etc. It helps connect our habit building with the reward center of our brain that just loves checking things off each day. Might be a tool worth adding to your wellness tool belt!
I asked my good friend and fellow wellness coach, Laura Wall, to explain how we can build healthier habits. Remember what I always say, it’s really about self love. Giving to ourselves and our practices first, so that we have the energy and ability to give to our passions and those around us. So, what we’re really doing when we build better habits is re-designing a big piece of our culture one step at a time.
Keep it Simple, Keep it Small
Choose only one area to work on at a time, and then choose just one part of that, focusing on what small action or behavior you can do consistently for a period of time. For example, don’t try to start exercising every day for one hour after having not exercised for a while, while also trying to change everything about your nutrition. Instead, choose one of those, and choose a small area to start, such as taking a 5-minute walk three times a week, or adding in 1 serving of veggies each day to how you are already eating. Practice that one small change for a couple of weeks and see how it goes before adding a second habit change.
Consider it an Experiment
Mindset is key. If we tell ourselves, that we are going to make big changes, the mind sometimes rebels and says “No way, let’s go to McDonald’s instead.” If we approach our new habit with the idea that we are experimenting, then we are more open-minded and curious to the data that we are collecting. And then that data, such as “hmm…I always seem to be too tired at the end of the day to exercise”, can serve as information on how to make an adjustment to our habit and become “maybe I need to set up my walk for first thing in the morning when I am full of energy.”
We all want to nail it on the first try. I get, I do too. But that’s not how we learn. Learning consists of doing the habit wrong, forgetting to do the habit, getting frustrated with the habit, and taking time out to figure out how and if we want to continue the habit. Lack of consistency with learning a new habit is NORMAL. Give yourself at least 2 weeks to practice a habit to start seeing some consistency, and at least 30 days to get it established into your routine. Remember that our “old habits” like always brushing our teeth before bedtime, or putting on your seat belt when you drive, have taken years to develop and become automatic. Give yourself time and patience to develop a new habit and it can serve you well for the rest of your life!
I am not a licensed nutritionist or dietitian. You should always consult with a nutritionist and your primary care provider before changing diets in any way or your doctor before trying out any supplement or medication. This article is not meant to cure, heal or otherwise solve any medical conditions whatsoever. It is based on personal experience and research.