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Creating habits that stick: here's how!

How’s it going with those New Year’s resolutions? If it’s not going as planned and/or you’ve thrown in the towel, it’s never too late to refocus and pick up where you left off.  

 

Creating habits, automatic (or near automatic) actions, to support your goal is a key part of the “goal getting” process.

 

If you want to get stronger, then establishing the habit of weight training a few days a week will help you reach that goal. If you want to run a 5K, then creating the habit of running a few days a week will help you cross the finish line. If you want to have more energy during the day (instead of skipping meals, running on fumes, and then raiding the fridge at night), then creating the habit of eating three balanced meals during the day will help.

 

In truth, habits can make our lives easier. Left to its own devices, our primitive brain will choose joy, avoid discomfort, and conserve energy (do what’s easy). But, when we establish habits, we avoid the need to make decisions in the moment because our brain has an automated set of directions to follow.

 

How do we create habits that serve us?

 

Developing habits is as simple as making a plan ahead of time and practicing those actions over and over again until it sticks! 

 

There are three ingredients to creating a new habit: a trigger, the behavior itself and a reward. I’m calling this the “habit sandwich” (I’m a dietitian and love food metaphors ;-).

 

I’m creating the habit of performing daily exercises to rehab a chronic injury (Achilles tendonitis) and avoid re-injury.


Here’s how I’m making my habit sandwich…

 

1)    The trigger is the cue (or cues) that will nudge you to perform an action or behavior. Here are some triggers to consider (1).

 

  • Time: you perform certain behaviors at certain times of day (like brushing your teeth each morning). I do half of my exercises in the morning when I wake up and the other half at night after dinner. Keeping the timing consistent is helpful in developing the habit.

 

  • Location: habits can be linked with certain locations. I do my AM exercises in my basement gym and I do my PM exercises in my family room. Keeping the location consistent can make it easier to develop the habit. Location can also be used to break habits that don’t serve you. If you grab candy out of the jar on your kitchen counter every afternoon, try removing the candy jar from the counter.

 

  • Preceding event: the habit is tied to something else. I’m doing my AM exercises after I wake up and put on my workout clothes and PM exercises after dinner.

 

  • Other people: Be aware of the company you keep. This trigger can work in your favor when you surround yourself with people with similar goals, have accountability buddies and/or enlist the help of a coach (me or another trusted expert). I visit my Physical Therapist once a week to monitor my progress and tweak my exercises to accelerate my progress.

 

2)    The behavior itself. Increase your chances of following through by writing down exactly what you will do (and not do) to perform the behavior. I wake up, use the restroom, brush my teeth, change into my workout clothes, drink water and head downstairs to my basement gym where I do my exercises. I won’t scroll socials, check work email or open my laptop (too easy to distract myself) until after my exercises are complete.  

 

3)    The reward is what you get when you complete the behavior, giving your brain a quick dopamine hit. I use a hard copy habit tracker to color in a square after I do my exercises {get it free here: https://page.traceysmithlifecoach.com/habits}. You can also add a tick mark to a notebook or whiteboard and watch them accumulate over time. If you’re into tech, there are habit tracker apps to gamify it.

 

Another fun tip to accelerate habit development: consider bundling the behavior with activities you enjoy (that provide instant gratification). Dr. Katherine Milkman and colleagues termed this “temptation bundling”. For. Example, I reserve my favorite podcasts and audiobooks for when I exercise (and Rom Coms while walking on my treadmill). Give it a try!

  Make this work for YOU!

 

If you’ve set a health-related goal (or any goal), but have abandoned it, it’s not too late to recommit. Take a look at my goal getting pitfalls, and strategies to overcome them {https://www.traceysmithlifecoach.com/blog} and follow the steps here to create a new habit.

 

When it comes to taking acti



on, stop waiting to feel motivated. Consistency and discipline are more important that motivation. Consistency doesn’t mean every single day! I have not been doing ALL of my exercises EVERY day, but I’m hitting my goal about 4 days a week and that’s enough to create the habit.

 

Habits become the default operating system for our brain, so that we don’t need to make a decision in the moment. I am ALL IN on reducing decision fatigue (#somanydecisions)!

 

A habit becomes part of our identity…it’s simply what we do (like brushing our teeth every morning).

 

What habit will become part of your future identity?

 

Before you forget, go grab my free habit tracker here (https://page.traceysmithlifecoach.com/habits).

 

For expert advice and accountability, get on my calendar (Tracey@TraceySmithLifeCoach.com) for your free 1-on-1 where we’ll talk about what’s getting in your way when it comes to your goals. No obligation and, at the very least, you’ll have a blueprint to move you forward.

 

Reference: see James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” for more on this topic!

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