Habits are the key to our wellness. Whether good or bad, they have a very heavy influence on our health, well-being, and quality of life. They affect how we function mentally and physically on a day-to-day basis. Healthy habits can reduce your risk for common preventable health problems like heart disease, strokes, cancer, and obesity. Habits that affect our overall wellness include: social connectedness, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and mindfulness.
Figuring out where to start can be tricky when it comes to changing a bad habit and turning it into a good one. There are decades of research that show proven strategies to help form new habits with changes to things like your exercise and diet routine.
Identify Your Habits. What are your weaknesses? What are your temptations? The first step to change is creating awareness around what you do on a regular basis. These habits could be anything from brushing your teeth to eating that midnight snack you really shouldn't and everything in between. Repetitious behaviors that make you feel good often become automatic and happen without much thought. Identifying the triggers of unhealthy habits will help you go about changing them.
Create a Plan. Start with small, specific goals and actions you can take. Consider what you think you'll need to be able to maintain these goals. Are there changes you can make to your surrounding environment? You may need to purge your pantry of all possible temptations or find a quiet space to relax. Whatever you believe will aide in achieving your goals, there is never a better time to start than now.
Track Your Progress. As with most plans, you must prepare for obstacles. Every day isn't going to be as easy as the last. Keeping a record of things like your diet, exercise, stress levels, or sleep patterns can help you stay on track. There was a study of people who, by tracking their progress closely, were able to lose 30 pounds and keep the weight of for at least a year just by being mindful and aware of their daily habits. If you feel like you are failing, keep pushing. That is when some can learn the most about themselves.
Focus on The Future. When you envision your future, what is something that gets your heart racing with excitement? Think of these moments when you are feeling unmotivated. Dr. Leonard Epstein, who studies behavior change and decision-making at the University of Buffalo, found that some people have a harder time resisting their temptations than others. He uses a term called "delay discounting" where you undervalue the benefits of waiting in favor of small, immediate rewards. "You can learn to postpone immediate gratification through episodic future thinking, or vividly imagining future positive experiences or rewards," he explains. "It's a great way to strengthen your ability to make decisions that are better for you in the long run".
Reward Yourself & Be Patient. Make this fun and enjoyable for yourself. After all, you are doing it for your own benefit. Like we talked about earlier, there are obstacles you may encounter along the way. If you find yourself struggling, ask if there's something else going on. Whether it be mentally, emotionally, physically, there is always someone there to help you navigate. Changing or creating a habit takes time, rewarding yourself every so often is just as important as disciplining.
Get your family & friends involved. Research shows that people's health habits and behaviors mirror those of their close family and friends. It will help you to stay on track and not get lost when you have others by your side. They will hold you accountable and it's even better if they are following along in actively trying to change their own habits. Motivation doesn't only happen within, find those who have your best interest in mind and work together!
You are never too old, too weak, or too overweight to start making changes!