We know that committing to improving our health long term by starting a new eating plan or fitness program involves so much mental planning and effort each day, especially at the beginning. But the ‘yo-yo’ weight loss mentality is easy to fall into. At the start, your motivation is high as you strive and focus on your goals and the possibilities of a better tomorrow. But this doesn’t always last. Are you feeling a little flat after finishing 12 weeks of my 12WBT? This is completely natural. So what is important to understand is that moving forward, the goal is to turn your newfound routine into life-long habits. But what exactly are habits? Are they really permanent? And how do you get to a point when implementing these healthy habits just becomes instinct?
What is a habit?
In this context, a habit is defined as a tendency to behave in a certain way when faced with a similar environment or situation, with little mental energy exerted because it’s second nature.
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An example of a habit is our tendency to drive the same route to and from work each day, seemingly without paying attention. The ironic thing is that creating a new habit can actually take ‘a lot’ of mental energy. Let’s use the above example, and assume that a habit change is needed because we’ve moved to a new address. The basic actions that are required are:
Step 1: Initiate habit– Know the route between work and your new home location and commence your daily drive.
Step 2: Consolidate habit– Continue to drive this same route with conscious thought. Whilst consolidating habits, your ‘focus’ is needed OR you may get distracted and end up off-route, or ‘unknowingly’ at your old house.
Step 3: Stabilise & adjustment phase– When your ‘route’ is driven without much mental effort, you can now work out little alternative roads along the route to save time, or should there be an accident, reflecting and adapting as needed without the loss of your habit.
So, this is the basic overview of how habits occur.
The problem is that most of us risk the ‘slip up’ and ‘yo-yo’ when it comes to Step 3, and this is what I want to talk about below.
Science shows us that we are wired to be goal orientated. Our goals and the progress cues that come up along the way release happy hormones that motivate us to keep going. However, what happens when we do ‘hit a goal’ and we attain our desired level of wellness? Have we really learned to recognise our habits, good and bad? Or will we settle back into our old ways soon after?
At 12WBT, we are big believers of consistency being key. The problem is that habits can change, because of environmental changes (such as no longer being on a fitness plan, or a tighter budget to cook with). Without Step 3 (regular checking in with ourselves and our behaviours) we run the risk of our positive habits shifting towards behaviours which again don’t serve us well.
If consistency is the key to long term behaviour change, then checking and re-setting is the key to consistency.
So how should you check and re-set to keep a habit?
Everyone is a little different. However, with well-established wellness habits such as eating, drinking, exercising, sleeping it is important to reflect (even for 5 minutes) at weekly to see how you are feeling about these habits mentally and physically. This way you can adjust course if necessary. This reflection is not coming from a place of perfection or dislike. It is simply about lovingly guiding ourselves back to a more centred space that we worked hard to achieve.
Habits will need to change as your environment changes. For example, if you were cooking every single night, but now 2 nights you’re getting home late, you’ll need to adjust your cooking habits so you’re not over-worked on those 2 nights. It’s about considering your habits and reflecting on whether these are nurturing you, or are they things you need to ‘let go’ or ‘adapt’ to.
When it comes to motivation, consider reflecting on and celebrating what you have already achieved and what you are maintaining (i.e. improved fitness, cooking skills, lower cholesterol levels, better blood pressure). Remember, your true goal is long-term health, and in the long term, consistent, everyday habits are what will matter most. To keep these habits working for you, reflect regularly, be open to re-adjust strategies and surround yourself with people who encourage you.
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