The simple fact about adopting a good set of healthy habits is that it requires routine built up over time. Habits are essentially regular tendencies or practices and the truth is that some habits can work for us and others can work against us. A lot of what we do every single day of our lives is automatic – we are on autopilot! Whether it’s brushing our teeth, taking a shower or eating breakfast. Take a moment to consider in which order you would usually do these three common daily activities and you’ll realise that you probably do them in that particular order through habit. It’s become comfortable for you to carry out these activities in that order. You’re used to doing things in a certain way. If you’re used to getting up, then eating breakfast, then jumping in the shower, then brushing your teeth then tomorrow morning just try changing the order…obviously getting up is the first in the sequence though! Did you notice how this felt a little bit unnatural, slightly outside of your comfort zone? Change this habit for a few weeks and it will feel completely natural. This just illustrates how much of what we do each day we actually do automatically, without really thinking about it. 3 weeks is commonly believed to be the amount of time it takes to change a habit and for it to begin to feel more natural. The more deep rooted the habit, the longer it will take to “reprogram our brains”. Obviously this particular example would be a relatively simple habit to change, stopping smoking for example would be much more difficult. But changing anything starts with that first step!
The first step to changing a habit is to make a decision and to have a reason in mind. Keep your goal in mind as this will serve as your motivation. There has been lots of research to suggest that having a goal in mind when you’re undertaking a difficult journey really is essential to successful completion of the tasks required. Will power is good to have but your primary motivating factor will be your need to change. Keep your sights on the goals…the WHY part of what you’re doing. This applies to both changing bad habits and forming new habits. You may have a goal to lose weight – to get that beach body for the summer, you may want to quit smoking for the health benefits and to be able to run around playing football with your kids without feeling out of breath all the time. We make small decisions each and every day which either work for us or against us in reaching our goals. There’s no quick fix to living a healthier lifestyle. It’s those small conscious decisions which we make every day which count. This is how habits are formed. Eating an apple today won’t make you instantly healthy but eating an apple every day instead of opting for that chocolate bar every day for a few years can make a difference. Let’s say that an apple contains around 50 calories and your favourite chocolate bar contains around 250 calories (these are just estimates but you get the idea) and then there’s the nutritional value of each. All other things being equal if you eat an apple a day for two years then you’ll have consumed around 36500 calories in apples. Do that with your favourite chocolate bar and you’ll have consumed around 182500 in your chocolate bars. Now considering that there’s the old “3500 calories equals a pound in body weight” rule and whether you consider this to be a myth or not I find this to be a good rule of thumb. This means that in 2 years the chocolate bars will be around 52 pounds in body weight against the apples being just over 10 pounds. That’s over five times the difference. It’s that cumulative effect that, over time, making certain food choices, has on your body.
Now I love chocolate but had to cut it down because I knew I was eating too much of the stuff and that eventually it may catch up to me. So I did just that – I cut down. I now enjoy it occasionally and it is a treat rather than part of my daily routine. Now I enjoy chocolate more than I ever did because of the scarcity of it in my life. I no longer feel guilty about eating it because it’s a treat. I essentially required my brain in terms of how I think about chocolate. I also exercise daily and have done so since being very young but there have been times in my life where I’ve stayed away from the gym for periods of time…I have got out of the good habit! It’s been more difficult to get back into this good habit the longer I’ve stayed away so there’s a positive correlation. I find that when I go to the gym I get the rush that people describe…the endorphins. It’s great! I love it! I find that writing down my goals is a great motivator and then tracking my exercise habits helps to keep me accountable.
I’ve always found that there can be a big difference between what we say and what we do. Ideas are good but without action they are just ideas. So take action but remember that slow and steady wins the race…remember The Tortoise and the Hare. We’re looking at lifestyle changes which have a positive effect over time and forming good habits. You see, when you work on your good habits, you’ll actually start to find that you have less space and time for your bad habits. For instance, when I go to the gym I feel like eating more healthily. It’s almost like your good habits and opening even more doors to other good habits! There’s a positive knock-on effect. Remember, healthy lifestyle is the goal, not quick dramatic unsustainable changes. On the other hand, there are some things I gave up instantly, these were all or nothing habits like smoking. Some people may be social smokers but I was a daily smoker and I didn’t like what I was doing. There were no benefits to my bad habit of smoking so I quit outright and never looked back. This was over 11 years ago and I never think about smoking anymore and I haven’t done so for a very long time.
Personal development is often about putting off instant gratification for longer term benefits such as giving up some of your free time to study at night class or cutting out some unhealthy foods so that your waistline won’t increase and you won’t need to purchase larger sized trousers every few years. I’m happy to recognise my faults and work on myself to become the best version of myself possible. Striving towards a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle does require some often major changes but the results are often well worth it and these changes can be broken down into smaller steps. As the long-term effects of making positive changes in our lives begin to spill over into other areas of our lives then the benefits just keep on growing. Working out helps you to sleep better, leads to heathier eating choices, gives you more energy, helps you concentrate better at work and be more productive. The benefits seem endless and affect every area of our lives. One healthy habit leads to another. It all just requires that first step which we have the choice to either make or not make. The first step always seems to be the hardest but then it just gets easier from there.