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How to form healthy habits and make them stick

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After you’ve made the decision to participate in an event or make some positive changes to your lifestyle, the hardest part is sticking to the training or new way of doing things. This could be learning a new skill, eating healthier, or training for an event. All of these are things that we won’t be able to master overnight – but we wish that we could.

The initial motivation and excitement of a new challenge can be great to get you started, but this can quickly fade. Motivation fades faster when life gets busy and it’s just easier to do things the way you’ve always been doing them. Motivation can also change based on what is going on around you. Creating a habit around training is a much more sure-fire way to get to the end goal than relying on motivation alone. Every habit that you have – good and bad, is the result of many small decisions over time.

The 3 step pattern that habits follow

  • Reminder

The trigger that initiates the behaviour – you could leave your exercise gear by your front door so that you see it when you get home from work. This triggers you to put it on and then you are much more likely to exercise. Or do you want to build strength or flexibility? You could do 5 squats or a calf stretch while you’re brushing your teeth. This is an example of using a task you do every day to trigger your new habit.

  • Routine

The behaviour itself; the action you take – this is the new exercise program you’re undertaking, the walking/running, stretching, and strengthening.

  • Reward

The benefit you gain from doing the behaviour – when developing a new habit it’s important that we reward ourselves when we stick to our routine. While chocolate bars and glasses of wine are a nice treat, they might be a bit counterproductive to what you are trying to achieve. Telling yourself that “I’ve done a good job” is an easy place to start. Or organising to meet a friend for a coffee at the end, or booking a massage after a couple of weeks of training are good options.

How to do it practically

When you’re starting training, beginning slowly is the key to success. The typical approach is to dive into the deep end as soon as you get a dose of motivation, only to fail quickly and wish you had more willpower as your new habit drowns. The more sustainable approach is to wade into the shallow water, slowly going deeper until you reach the point where you can swim whether you’re motivated or not.

  • Put your habits and routine on your calendar

Find a progressive training routine online, or write one for yourself based on what you’ve seen. Once you have this routine, schedule it into your calendar around what you have on. You’re more likely to stick to what you’re trying to achieve if you have it written down.

  • Stick to your schedule, even in small ways

Life gets busy sometimes, we all know that. Sometimes it can cut into what we’re trying to achieve. To build your habit, and to keep training, it’s important to stick to the schedule, even if it means reducing the volume of what you were going to do. For example, you had a 30-minute jog scheduled in, but you only have 10 minutes. Get out for a 10-minute jog, or do some body weight exercises and some stretching. You’ll get the benefits of the exercise you complete as well as reinforcing the habit that you’re trying to stick to.

  • Have someone else that expects something of you

It’s easy to let ourselves down, it’s much harder to let someone else down. Some people train well independently, but these are usually the people who have already made it a habit. The easiest way to get this external accountability is to commit to training with a friend. You’re more likely to show up and keep at it if you’ve got someone waiting for you. You could also join a group, or get yourself a coach, you’ll know which one will work best for you.

  • Design your environment for success

Making it easy for yourself to make good choices, or hard to make bad ones, is essential. As we talked about earlier, leaving your exercise gear in a visible place and getting changed into it straight away makes it more likely you’ll get out for that run. Hiding the T.V. remote, or moving your favourite chair can make it harder to sit straight down.

Now the most important thing is to put these ideas into action and start a new training habit. Plan for it, and good luck!