Humans are creatures of habits. We tend to stick to what we know and how we do things, especially if that's what we've done all along.
That's just how we do it. That's just how I am.
There comes a point where we realise that doing things the same way day in and day out, and expecting change, is madness. And so, we make...resolutions! More me-time. Get lean. Complete a marathon. Book that retreat... But how do we stick to them? We asked Aimee Barnes Pestano, founder and coach at Tangram Wellness, to shed some insight on habits!
Studies show that about 40% of our daily activities are performed in the same situations and that habits are therefore repetitive, automatic actions where associations are formed between cues and response. So, if you think about it, that's nearly half of your waking life operating in your unconscious mind!
In order to kick a bad habit effectively, try finding a way to make the change extremely simple. Otherwise, it's easy to slip right back into autopilot mode.
And, it's important to find a substitute - replacing the "bad" habit with something more life-affirming. For instance, if you're trying to quit smoking, you might want to substitute those usual three minutes with a cigarette for three minutes of running around the block.
I'm a big fan of the Tiny Habits method by Dr. BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist and director of Stanford Behavior Design Lab. Dr. Fogg teaches that when we design for the behavior changes that lead to a health outcome, such as managing stress, rather than the health outcome itself, we greatly increase our chances of success. In other words, baby steps!
But, in order to make it stick you must have three elements - motivation, ability and triggers - or MAT. The higher your motivation, the easier it generally is to make the change. Second, you have to have the ability to make the new habit easy to do. And finally, there has to be a trigger, or a call to action, “something that makes you think, I need to do this now,” and usually that trigger will come after something.
Quitting a bad habit cold turkey is rarely effective. Having a rock solid plan, a healthy substitute, some outside support such as through a community, and making the change in a way that's automatic will set you up for success.
This might sound counterintuitive, but for today's busy woman, a recommendation is to schedule at least thirty minutes daily to do absolutely nothing. We've forgotten how to sit still, listen to the breeze, and let the mind wander. At the same time, rates of debilitating fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia and addiction are skyrocketing. Human beings are forgetting how to "be" with themselves - and that's really what makes us human. We often hinge our self-worth entirely on productivity now, and this outlook is doing immense damage to our bodies and minds.
Another habit to cultivate is moving the body in ways that are nearly effortless or enjoyable. Rather than forcing yourself to attend that aerobics class you hate, find a workout you actually love doing - whether it's ballroom dancing, swimming, aerial gymnastics, or anything else. So many women often go to yoga class or sign up for expensive personal training packages because they think that's what they "should" do in order to stay fit, but then they end up resenting it or feeling burned out. Do something you enjoy to keep the body moving, and look for ways to make it automatic, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work or walking to your destination rather than hopping on the bus.
Personal responsibility is key here - the only person you can change is YOU. We cannot change other people in a way that's lasting and real, and to try to do so is to take away their own free will. This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons I've ever had to learn and it's a truth that many women really struggle with. When we try to control other people, we end up trashing our own health and well-being.
If someone wants to lose weight but hasn't actually done anything about it, perhaps try hiring a coach or therapist to work through the contemplation and preparation stages of change. This would involve assessing the motivations and barriers to improving one's health, reaffirming the benefits of weight loss, experimenting with initial little steps toward change, and creating a manageable action plan. The self-motivation needs to be there in order for any change to be sustainable, so increasing this first is key.
If someone's fallen off the bandwagon within a month or two of commencing a fitness journey, try taking a closer look at the habit change plan. Was the fitness goal you committed to realistic and enjoyable? How are you measuring your progress? And, how are you celebrating your victories each week? Celebration is key and helps keep us motivated, but we often forget to give ourselves a pat on the back regularly for our efforts.
Once the goal has been inspected more closely and the plan re-tooled, it's time to put some accountability in place. Find an accountability buddy - maybe someone at work, your partner or a friend - who will check in with you regularly to see how you're going with your goals. You can also hire a coach to keep you on track, and there are several good accountability apps out there, like BeeMinder or GoalsOnTrack.
You might also want to employ a negative-framed or anti-charity incentive. Let's say you've committed to running for thirty minutes every morning upon waking. Now, if you fail to do this twice in the next thirty days, you might commit to donating a painful dollar amount to a charity you cannot stand and posting your donation on your Facebook feed. The app, StickK, can help you do that.
Finally, ask yourself, "how important is this to me?" and "how can I make it more enjoyable?" Find your why. "Looking hot in a bikini" isn't always a good reason for getting fit - superficial motivations are often short-lived.
What other apps do you use to support your day-to-day goals and lifestyles? Join our #IRL conversation here or share with us at [email protected].
Find your accountability buddy with #teambusywoman! Join us in the closed Facebook group and check-in with your goals. To get your invite, all you have to do is to sign up here. We look forward to having you with us!