At the beginning of the year, many of us think about living, eating and feeling better. Heather McKee, PhD, a behavior change specialist gives us some tips about how to develop good habits, how to shake the bad ones and how to maintain our efforts in the long run.
Log your bad habits
All of us have bad habits, it may be an afternoon cookie or skipping a weekly workout to chill on the couch in front of the TV. Whatever it is, in order to change it, you should make a little effort to identify it. “Habits are formed through context and repetition,” McKee says. “It’s not one habit alone — it’s a series of micro-habits woven together.”
Let’s take the afternoon cookie as an example. You may be working late on a project, you feel tired, maybe bored and in need to eat something sweet. It’s cookie time once again. If you do that often enough, it becomes a habit. Do you want to break the cycle? You have to log it, either physically or mentally. You have a lot of apps that could help you in the process.
Find a replacement
You now know that boredom triggers you to eat that afternoon cookie. You identified the bad habit, now how do you change it? Try replacing this bad habit with other behaviors. Prepare healthier snacks in advance, like almonds or low calorie energizing bars. Maybe you’re not interested enough by the activities you have and you should ask your boss for more interesting assignments. Or maybe a little stretching or a walk around the block will get you out of that mood.
Don’t hurry by making a resolution to stop eating cookies at work. You will still crave, maybe even more. Give yourself permission to try different things. Experiments make us feel safer,” McKee says. “People who are best at achieving goals tend to be the ones who are best at self-compassion and kindness. Experimenting makes you less worried about repercussions, less fearful of failing because you have the flexibility and the mindset to try again” if something doesn’t work.
Think of the gain, not the loss
Unfortunately, most of the time what we see on TV or around us discourage us and work against us. We all know that every junk food has a great marketing behind, designed to trigger us — just look at those colors and fonts in the snack aisle. And on the healthy side, well, as McKee puts it, “How often do we see kale being advertised?”
Often when you have to make a healthy choice you feel like you are missing out something good, but in reality, you’re gaining real nutrients that will help you. In the case of regular exercise, you are likely both extending your lifespan and improving the quality of that lifespan, in areas ranging from mental health to stress level. You’ll improve the time you spend with friends and family, as you’ll have more energy. You’ll likely get better sleep, which in turn creates a virtuous cycle where you’re also eating better. If you make your healthy habits social — by going to an exercise class with a friend or making healthy meals with a family member — all the better.
Focus on what you’re achieving on the long term, on the good side of your choice and you won’t feel deprived. You will see you did the right choice.