We emphasize the importance of cultivating lifelong healthy habits here at Clar-e-ty.
We want our clients to instill habits because habits are the backbone of what drives our behavior. And creating habits that push you towards your goals is a foundational piece of instilling behavior change.
That being said, when we set goals, our habits are what we fall back on & need to evaluate in order to change our behavior.
And before we get too deep into this conversation, let’s first define what exactly is a habit.
By textbook definition, a habit is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”
Moreover, habits are the routines/practices we perform daily in which we don’t have to even think twice about doing.
These are activities like:
Brushing our teeth
Our drive to/from work
Making coffee/tea in the morning
Scrolling on our phone whenever we get a free minute
Simply put, the habits you have in place are practices you’ve repeated so many times, your brain has made them automatic. They’re the actions you could literally do in your sleep because you’ve put so many reps into this action, it’s like you could be put on autopilot to perform them.
And this goes for actions we know we don’t want to change (i.e. the way we brush our teeth, drive to work, etc.), but also for the habits we know we might want to change. For example, maybe you want to drink more water instead of coffee first thing in the morning or you don’t want to scroll on your phone for 15 minutes at a time whenever you’re on a work break. Even though you might be telling your brain you want to work on drinking more water & on not spending hours mindlessly scrolling through social media, it’s not easy to break these habits once they’re hardwired into your routine.
Habits can be so hard to break because your brain is a creature of habit. It loveeeeesss routine & monotony. Your brain doesn’t want you to have to work hard to make every single decision you need to make in a day so it forms neural pathways that allow you to make decisions you have to make time & time again or perform a task over again in the most efficient way possible. Your brain resists change because it knows subconsciously you’ve instilled this habit to solve a problem to put forth as little energy as possible.
Our brain allows these habits to be formed & creates pathways around smaller daily decisions with the expectation you’ll have more mental capacity & space to tackle any other harder decisions you’ll have to make during the day. Which is exactly what we want! I mean think about how hard your brain would have to work if you really had to think about brushing your teeth, or eating food, or driving to & from work. You’d be so mentally exhausted by mid-morning you wouldn’t have the brain power to make any more decisions for the rest of the day.
With that said, creating new habits & breaking old ones we want to change takes time. It requires intentional effort & work. As with anything that involves change, adapting our habits & changing our behavior will require us to get a little bit uncomfortable. After all, you are basically rewiring your brain & changing your neural pathways by breaking bad habits.
In today’s blog, we’re going to teach you 5 simple ways you can instill new habits & create lasting behavior change. Each strategy builds off the next so if you’re looking to create better habits or change/revamp some habits that aren’t serving you anymore, keep reading!
1. “Keep it simple, stupid.”
If you know us, you know we can’t resist an Office reference ;)
But this just means to break your habits down into the most simple tasks possible. Think so simple that it might even seem minute & pointless at first.
This goes back to the point mentioned above about how changing our habits requires our brains to rewire the neural pathways that a habit, good or bad, is following (which is a lot of work!). Our brains, as smart as they are, don’t want to have to work harder than they need to. To help mitigate resistance to changing habits, identifying “bite-sized” steps or actions you can take will make it more likely new pathways can form.
For example, let’s say you tell yourself “I want to start cleaning up my diet.” Well, what does that ACTUALLY mean? Changing your nutrition habits can look like a number of things. It might look like eating out less frequently, or eating an extra serving of vegetables throughout the day, or drinking an extra 15oz of water, or even prioritizing protein at each of your meals. The more complex the task, the more resistance our brain will have to performing it. We have to focus on mastering the basics before we try to overcomplicate habit formation.
This is why breaking the habits you want to instill/change down into very simple, actionable steps will be more beneficial long-term. So instead of “I want to start cleaning up my diet,” you might say to yourself “I’m going to start prioritizing my health by including a serving of fruit or vegetables at each meal I eat.” This gives you a plan with a definitive step to help you implement change. Once this skill is mastered, you can add on the next habit!
Which lead us to our next tip…
2. One habit at a time
Your brain does not want to multi-task. It resists making too many changes at once so picking one habit to change or one to implement at a time can help mitigate resistance.
We get it. It’s exciting to purse habit formation & get after goals which is why it’s easy to put too much on your plate at one time. In the early weeks of tackling behavior change, people are usually gong-ho. They feel like they can handle way more than their brains can comprehend. They put so much on their plate that after a few weeks of trying to work on too many factors at one time, they’re ready to revert to what’s easier; their old, less time consuming habits.
Going back to the example mentioned above, if you were to try to eat more vegetables, drink more water, cook more meals at home, & prioritize protein all at one time, you’d send your brain into overdrive. You’ll be overwhelmed & resist the behavior change you’re trying to instill vs. if you were to triage which habit you’d want to tackle first, mastered that one, & then moved onto the next.
For some this might look like going from cooking no meals at home to just ONE meal at home every day. For some people this might look like going from no exercise at all to walking 10-15 minutes per day. And for others this might look like eating no fruits & veggies to having at least one servings of a fruit or veggie per day.
Whatever this looks like for you, pick ONE habit to work on for a few weeks, get consistent taking action towards mastering it, & then move onto the next habit you want to work on. In the short-term it might not be as rewarding to work on building ONE new habit for a few weeks at a time, but think about where you’ll be if you keep that up for 6 months. This is going to generate a lot more progress towards your goals long-term, than if you were to focus on too much at one time all at once, get overwhelmed, & quit altogether.
3. Habit stack
One of our favorite ways to implement new habits!
Habit stacking is the act of “stacking” a new habit you’re trying to implement onto another habit that’s already second nature for you. Most Clar-e-ty clients find this strategy easier to keep up with than others since they’re applying it to an activity or practice they already do daily.
The habit you choose to tie the new habit you’re trying to implement to should be a habit you perform daily. Specificity & frequency are also important when selecting your cue, or your current habit, for the new habit. The more obvious you make the first cue, the more likely it is your brain will tie the cue to the new one you’re trying to form.
For example, let’s say you want to work on drinking more water instead of coffee or soda throughout the day. To stack drinking water on top of a habit you’ve already instilled, you might say:
"While I'm making my coffee in the morning, I will have 8oz of water."
"On my way home from the gym, I will drink 10oz of water."
“When I sit down to eat each meal, I will drink a glass of water.”
“Before I reach for a soda, I will have a glass of water first.”
Selecting a cue that is too vague or unclear, will only result in your new habit not sticking. This might mean being more specific than you think you need to be, “When I get dressed for work, ….”, “After the sun rises…”, “After I drop the kids off at school…”. The tighter the bond between your new habit & the cue you create for it, the better the odds are you’ll take action towards pursuing your new habit.
4. Accept that building habits will take time
We live in a world full of instant gratification. Likes, followers, access to anything we could ever want, & knowledge is at the tip of our finger tips. It takes seconds to get something via the Internet or gratification via social media.
Unfortunately, changing our behavior doesn’t work in the same way. It takes more time & space than we’d like to think it does since our brain is having to rewire new pathways during new habit formation. We don’t generate the habits that aren't serving us overnight, so we can’t expect to change them or create new ones overnight either.
It can also help to set general timelines for yourself when building habits/pursuing goals vs. strict deadlines. Meaning, identifying your goal & setting a schedule of steps you might take to get there instead of setting yourself up to feel like a failure if you happen to not accomplish your goal by a rigid deadline you’ve created.
This might look like telling yourself, “I’m going to schedule a workout in my calendar 3 times per week & cook at least one meal at home per day.” vs. saying, “I’d want to lose 20lbs in 3 months.”
Although losing body fat is the ultimate goal, the more you can focus on the actions that will help you get there, the more accomplished you’re going to feel in doing them. Rigid deadlines for achieving goals/building habits don’t take into account any & all factors that might be roadblocks to you achieving your goals & don’t help set you up for success long-term.
5. Plan for setbacks
We’re human. Which means you’re going to mess up from time to time. You’re going to miss a walk, not be in bed at 9 pm every night, you’re going to not drink enough water some days, & there will be days you don’t have a single vegetable.
And that’s OKAY. It’s not about how perfect you can be, but more so about how consistent you can be.
As author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, writes “"The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.”
Forgetting or even intentionally skipping a habit one time doesn’t make you a failure. It just means you’re human! What’s more important is not judging yourself or punishing yourself for making a mistake & then making a plan of action for how you’re going to get back on track as quickly as possible.
For instance, you might miss a workout because the kids have a production at school you don’t want to miss, so you plan to go hit a workout the day after or maybe you didn't hit your protein target because you’ve had to eat out for every meal that day, so you plan to prep food/plan your meals out for the following day to prioritize protein.
It’s better to accept that “life happens” days will happen & see the failures as opportunities to reflect on what you could have done differently to learn from the experience. And preparing a course of action ahead of time for setbacks is better than telling yourself they won’t happen at all & not knowing what to do when they come up.
When it comes to creating habits, the biggest takeaways we want you to know are that changing your behavior starts with identifying what habits are serving you & which aren’t. From there, making mental list of actionable steps to purse the habits that will help you achieve your goals & focusing on ONE at a time is key. Most importantly, don’t give yourself a deadline for finding the happiest, healthiest version of yourself. The process will take time!