Change is rough. Habits are sticky. Most of us struggle to adopt new ways of doing things even when we know we’d be happier, healthier, and just better off living this way.
Much of this struggle comes down to human nature and biology. Over the past ten years or so there has been a surge of research and writing about the science of habit change. Just check the latest top selling non-fiction books and you will find at least one about how to live, eat, exercise or be better by embracing new daily routines.
Most of my patients know what a healthy diet is and that they should be exercising more but they struggle to make this a reality in their lives. I’ve written about the importance of being intentional about making change: systems not goals and Creating Healthy Habits.
One of my favorite writers on the influence of human nature on habit change is Gretchen Rubin. She’s written several books and is the host of the Happiness Project podcast. On her website you can explore tips to make healthy change a reality in your life. She has specific, digestible recommendations about eating, exercise, happiness, and many others.
Here’s her habit change manifesto:
- What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.
- Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.
- Focus on actions, not outcomes.
- By giving something up, we may gain.
- Things often get harder before they get easier.
- When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves.
- We’re not very different from other people, but those differences are very important.
- It’s easier to change our surroundings than ourselves.
- We can’t make people change, but when we change, others may change.
- We should make sure the things we do to feel better don’t make us feel worse.
- We manage what we monitor.
- Once we’re ready to begin, begin now.
As you can see, much of this is about cultivating a healthy mindset and keeping a focus on long term success. Many of my patients struggle to believe they can succeed in sticking to healthy changes. This lack of confidence often arises from a moment of eating the “wrong” thing or staying on the couch instead of going for a walk. The mindset becomes, “it’s too hard, I can’t do this”. Having a manifesto like Gretchen’s can help us see that one detour from a plan is not failure.
My favorite from her habit manifesto is “make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong”. This requires some planning, thinking through your week or day and how you are going to make it easier to succeed. A couple of examples that have worked for my patients:
- Goal: reduce sugar intake. Success story: I don’t bring sweets into the house.
- Goal: exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Successful story: I created a playlist of songs I like to dance to and set three alarms during the day to take 10 minute dance breaks.
- Goal: eat more vegetables. Successful story: I buy the $5 bag of veggies at the farmers’ market then challenge myself to figure out what to make with it!
What are your success stories?