While we like to pat ourselves on the back for turning down a bit of cake every once in a while, the truth is that one time occurrences have a negligible effect on our long-term health and happiness. For those of us wishing to improve our lives, good habits are the key – patterns of behaviour that we can form and stick with for long periods of time.
The key to understanding how good habits can help is to think of the effort that goes into them. Sure, it’s difficult to start a good habit, but once it’s something you do, continuing with it gets easier and easier. We can all live healthier, happier lives if we take the time to establish good habits.
Establishing good habits depends on three things:
1) Setting achievable goals
2) Defining observable achievements
3) Creating a behavioural pattern
Setting achievable goals is all about being realistic. It’s not what you hope you can do, but what is feasible in your life right now. A promise to visit the gym three nights a week is one that most of us can’t live up to, and once that promise is broken, it loses its motivational power. Ask yourself what you can really start to do. Maybe it’s not ideal – for example, cutting down on how many cigarettes you smoke rather than quitting completely – but once a better habit has been successfully formed, you can move onto the best version of that habit. A great tip for smokers is to start using e-cigarettes in place of some (or all) of their regular cigarettes. It’s far healthier, less inconvenient, and can be a great gateway to stopping completely.
Defining observable achievements means that you need to be able to prove to yourself that your habit is paying off. Find a way to make your result something you can quantify. A lot of people exercise with the hope that they will eventually ‘look better’. That’s a great overall goal, but it’s not something you can use to motivate yourself when you’re feeling lazy. Find some numbers to support your new good habit – it could be pounds lost, distance jogged or money saved. Having a number value on your behaviour will help you keep it up. Now, when you think about ignoring your promises, you know exactly what you’re giving up.
Creating a behavioural pattern is all about making it easier to keep up your good habit. Rather than deciding that you’ll eat a healthy meal two nights of the week, stipulate which nights that will be. Suddenly it’s not about making the choice to be good, but just not making the choice to be bad.
Of course, the best advice for those looking to start good habits is be realistic – that means setting goals you can realistically achieve and not being too hard on yourself when you fall short.
* This is a collaborative post *