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Habits: How to Make New Years Resolutions Stick

So we are one month into 2018, and who has actually kept to his or her New Years resolutions? You might have initially lost a couple of pounds, started exercising more, or were able to set aside time for various tasks. However, now is the time most people start to fall of the wagon. How do we make these new resolutions, or habits, stick. How do we stop ourselves from rebounding to what we were doing before the New Year?

This holiday break I read an excellent book called the “Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. This book talked about how habits are formed and changed by taking a look into how our brains work. It explained how to harness our habits for the positive in our personal lives, our work, and society. Below is the take-away of how we can make our new years resolution stick longer than a month or two.

The first simple but mind-blowing (at least I thought so) concept is understanding what a habit is and how it works. A habit works in a loop: 1st, there is a cue (smell, visual trigger, time of day, emotion, boredom); 2nd, we go through a routine (ex. eating “X”, performing a task, going for a run, biting your nails etc.); 3rd, we receive a reward (ex. satisfaction of accomplishment, endorphins, sugary sweetness in our blood stream etc.). The habit loop is driven by our brains craving for a reward once it encounters a cue. What makes habits great and not so great is that we perform them automatically without much conscious thought. For example, when we brush our teeth, we no longer need to focus on how we are accomplishing the task, instead we just do it. So if that’s true, how can we form good habits and change bad ones?

Image result for habit loop
  1. Recognize the Cues: Check what cues start the bad habit you are doing. Are you eating because your bored, or because the first thing you do when you get home is reach for the unhealthy food. Realize what your triggers are and try to limit or control them.
  2.  Change the Routine, Change the Habit: We can’t get rid of habits, they are encoded in our brains. Instead we must change them. We can do this by keeping the cue and reward and changing the routine. For example instead of eating a snack high in sugar/carbs/fat etc. replace it with a fruit, or instead of watching TV and drinking wine after work, go for a run and then drink some wine after work.
  3. Believe in Yourself: Seems trivial I know, but self-belief can go a far way. If you believe you can lose weight or that you can run that 5K this spring, you are more likely to set a plan that you’ll stick to. Those who try a new task because they feel they should or have to, are most likely to fail.
  4. Change/Create Habits with a Group. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator, and encouragement/camaraderie really do help. We don’t want to let our friends down more than we don’t want to let ourselves down. And it’s always more fun in a group!

Since I am a PT I will put this little plug in here. If your goal was to start exercising, here are some tips about making habits that I have found helpful exercise specific .

  1. Be intentional about the cues. For example, find the same time of the day and stick to exercising then. Or have a visual cue such as laying out your exercise clothes and sneakers. And give yourself a clearly defined reward when you accomplish it.
  2. Get a membership at a gym and go to workout classes, or start working with a trainer. Working in a group will always push you a little harder.
  3. Give yourself a reachable goal or target. For example, signing up for a race in the spring, buying a new outfit for date night, or adding an adventurous excursion on your upcoming trip.

If you have pain with exercise stop by Action Potential or a trusted PT or physician to take a look in order to prevent any injury. Or check out Align Fitness on our website if interested in personal training.

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