Creating Healthy Habits

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“I’m going to get rid of my muffin top / beer gut / post-baby belly.”

“I’m going to the gym 5 days a week.”

“I’m going to quit smoking / drinking so much / eating junk food.”

Sound familiar?!

Be honest. How many of your New Year’s health resolutions fell by the wayside after January 1st?  After the first week?  By end-month?

Fact: while 8% of Americans are successful in achieving their New Year’s resolution; 24% fail to make good on theirs.
What exactly is a habit?  And how do we make the shift to healthier habits?

A habit is the sum of three parts:

A trigger + an action + a response / reward.

For example:

  1. Trigger = You wake up, feeling tired and groggy.
  2. Action  = You drink a cup of coffee.
  3. Reward = You feel alert and ready to meet the day.

The habit you’ve established?  Drinking a cup of coffee every morning.

The truth is: it’s harder to “create” an entirely new habit than to replace parts of an existing habit.

You can, however, start to segue into a new (healthier) habit with these strategies.

1.  Introduce a Substitute “Action”
Creating Healthy Habits 2This is one of the easiest ways to create a healthier habit.  For example, if your favorite way of winding down after a stressful day is to eat a pint of ice cream, try noshing on frozen berries instead. They have roughly the same consistency and texture as ice cream—and a much more forgiving calorie count.

A few months ago, I introduced a substitute “action” when it became clear that my daily afternoon fix—a few squares of dark chocolate—was triggering canker sores in my mouth. I swapped out dark chocolate for a half-cup of raw sauerkraut.  Interestingly, in addition to providing good gut bugs, raw sauerkraut completely killed my craving for chocolate!

2.  Introduce a Pattern Interrupt
Inserting a pattern interrupt between the trigger and the action is an effective way to give yourself a “time out”.
For example, when you have the urge to binge on pizza, chips and soda, do 10 push-ups. Wait. See how you feel. Repeat if necessary (several times).  If, after 50 push-ups, you still want pizza, chips and soda, eat it.  A purposeful delay can dampen the intensity of your craving.

Or, let’s say your goal is to reduce your caffeine intake, including your morning cup of coffee.  Instead of quitting cold turkey, crowd out the craving. When you wake up, have two glasses of water first (dehydration contributes to fatigue).  Then, have a 16-ounce green smoothie (the vitamins and minerals can be energizing).  See how you feel.  If you still crave a cup of coffee, drink it.  You will crave that cup of coffee less over time.

Introducing a pattern interrupt helps recalibrate the intensity of your desire for the original “action” response to a trigger.  In other words, by doing push-ups to thwart your craving for junk food, you might notice that your biceps are becoming more defined, which might inspire you to go to the gym regularly.  Drinking a green smoothie first thing in the morning not only reduces your craving for coffee, it can trigger a desire to eat more greens and vegetables, leading you to make healthier food choices more of the time. Without even trying, you lose a few pounds in the process.

Bottom line: Making small changes can add up to big (noticeable) results. You feel that “success” is do-able—an important mindset to have when trying to break a habit.

4 Steps to Creating a New Habit

Establishing a new habit requires consistency, which requires that you:

1. Define your goal.  For example: You want to form a habit of taking a class 3x/ week at the gym.

2.  Be specific.  What classes will you take?  What days?  What time?
For example: Kettlebell at 12:30pm on Mondays; Zumba at 1pm on Wednesdays; and Strength-training at 6:15pm on Thursdays.

3. Be committed. Start by taking classes 3x / week for 30 days (not for the rest of your life). A finite time period makes it psychologically easier to commit to a new action. Lock yourself into this new activity by scheduling your class in advance (if possible), which commits you to going.  Or, by making a friend in each class—someone who expects you to show up regularly.

4. Establish accountability.  Work with someone, like a health coach or a personal trainer, who will hold you accountable for your actions. Or recruit a friend who will dole out your “punishment” if you lose resolve.  For example, every time you miss a class, you pay your friend $50.  Or maybe the consequence of missing 3 classes in a row is having to post a full body photo of yourself—in form-fitting workout gear—on Facebook.

Adding the “fear factor”, or negative reinforcement, can help jumpstart a fledgling new habit so that you follow through consistently.

I’d love for you to share with me (type your comment in the box under “Speak Your Mind):
–What healthy habits are you trying to adopt in the New Year?
–What are your biggest challenges in making this transition?

Hi, I’m Kathryn Matthews. As a Board Certified Functional Health Coach, I help clients reclaim their energy, vitality and well-being. I want you to feel empowered about taking charge of YOUR health! To learn more, see About Kathryn.

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