Lorna Harper, Vice President of Transformation at American Express Global Business Travel, takes us through her top tips to start making healthy habits.
A habit is something that we do often or regularly, usually without thinking about it. Why we do what we do is down to our life programming or paradigms. As we consider some light-hearted ideas about habits, keep in mind that understanding our programming is the best place to start if we want to permanently change our habits, our behaviour and therefore our results. However, even small changes can have a powerful impact on our lives.
Most of us would like to preserve all the habits that generate positive results and none of the negative. In relation to health, consciously or unconsciously, habits influence whether we exercise, what we drink and the type and amount of food we put in our bodies.
There are 3 strategies I have found helpful in relation to habits:
- Don’t punish yourself about `bad’ habits
- Put more energy into the habits you DO want over those you DO NOT
- Make your positive habits automatic
Don’t demonise habits
Pay attention to the language we use around habits. Is it positive? When we think of habits we tend to think about bad habits versus good habits and by extension that we should be working hard to quit the bad and add more good ones. Don’t watch one more episode and get to bed! Stop eating pies and start eating apples!
I have found it more helpful to think of habits in a less extreme way.
- When we attach a label of bad we create an enemy, something to fight with. When we win, we feel good, but we feel guilty when we lose. I lost my fight with a third glass of red wine last Friday and spent Saturday morning guilty about the energy I didn’t have for the kids.
- If there are habits we know give us negative results, recognise them. Swap them out for new habits, engage in them less often, but don’t put them on an exclusion list. When something is forbidden what does that do to desire? Try not to ban things completely. (I admit to having a couple of prohibited items including fizzy drinks, artificial sweeteners and jelly sweats, but mostly I put things onto an `occasional’ list).
Stop focusing on the habits we don’t want and focus on the ones we do
How often do we talk about what we must stop doing? I must not eat half a packet of hob nobs. The brain thinks in pictures. It doesn’t see the word `not.’ It sees a packet of biscuits. Don’t think of a red Lorry. We move towards what we focus on. Hob nobs or a Red Lorry in this example. (Although, if the Lorry is speeding towards you DO focus on it and get out of the way).
Thinking about what we shouldn’t do makes it about giving something up, so we feel a sense of loss and subconsciously go looking for it. Perhaps we could start to ask ourselves better questions;
- What great habits do I want to keep in my life?
- What new habits will I add to produce amazing results?
- Which unhelpful habits will I swap for better ones?
What if the habits we want in our life were as automatic as tying our shoe laces?
Automatic habits are the things we do that we don’t even think about, like the hand we use to brush our teeth, the first thing we do when we get out of bed or the type of coffee we order (Right hand, drink a glass of water, grande oat milk latte in my keep cup).
Automatic habits are powerful. Try brushing your teeth with a different hand or think about driving on the other side of the road in a new country.
How can we make the habits that create positive results automatic? Let’s look at what was going on when we learned how to tie our shoelaces. We really wanted to learn how to do it, we had to try very hard, we failed a lot, we practiced over and over and finally we were very proud when we mastered it:
- Desire – We were hungry for independence
- Effort – Our tongue was sticking out from trying so hard
- Failure – We sometimes gave up and asked for help
- Repetition – We practiced every single day
- Reward – We mastered it and felt wonderfully independent
If we had to learn this skill as an adult most of us would be buying Velcro, but eventually shoe lace tying is something we do every day without thinking. If we want to start or stop doing something and make permanent changes, we can apply the same principles.
We must really want it and be 100% emotionally connected to why we want it. Think of people we know who perhaps have struggled for years to reduce the weight of their body, but they suddenly breakthrough and achieve massive results. What was different for them this time around? I’ll bet it’s related to their why; health issues, a big birthday, a bad photo that sparked them into action.
Think hard and look for powerful reasons you want to start or stop something. Make it a must not a should.
As with learning to tie our shoe laces, to begin with it will take deliberate and conscious determination. If we want to go to the gym every morning, it won’t happen unless we put our kit next to the bed and set our alarm.
We shouldn’t beat ourselves up when it doesn’t go to plan, simply reconnect with the reason we want it and start again. Go back and check your why. Maybe you don’t have a strong enough reason.
It takes on average 66 days for a habit to form. For new behaviours to become automatic, recognise that it can be difficult and it takes a lot of repetition.
We must tune into the positive and negative feelings associated with what we did. No one ever wished they had drank more alcohol the night before. No one ever wished they hadn’t gone to the gym. Tune into the feelings, don’t ignore them. They will serve you tomorrow when your alarm sounds at 6am!
Trade unhelpful habits for new and improved ones. Chose one or two habits at a time, master them and then add one or two more. Compound this over time and watch your results!
Here are a few fun and helpful habits that you might want to slot into your day;
- Take a moment each morning and smell your coffee!
- Add 120 seconds to the end of every work out and do push ups, burpees or lift weights.
- Eat when you’re hungry. Tune into your body and don’t blindly consume.
- Drink (water) when you’re not thirsty.
- Smile more
*Understanding our paradigms is the best way to achieve permanent change in our lives. Get in touch if you would like more information on this topic.