Here I go again…talking about how to make healthy habits work for you by knowing – you guessed it – what works for you!
Habit Strategies, wha?
I read a lot. Maybe not compared to some people, but for a mom with a active 3 year old and shit to get done – I read more than most I know.
Recently most of those books have been in the self help, self improvement, make me better sort of genre. They talk about habits A LOT. However, I’ve found that often times the recommendation is what kind of habits rather than how to create those habits. The advice for how can usually be summarized as one or a combination of the following: “just do it”, “take small steps” and “schedule it in”.
For most of us “just do it” is basically impossible (check out why here). The strategies of small steps and scheduling are useful but they are by no means the be all end all when it comes to ways to build stronger habits.
My fave lady friend (ok, we’re not friends but a girl can dream), Gretchen Rubin, laid out several more strategies in her book Better Than Before and I’ve picked up some favorites in a couple other places. Let’s check out how you can apply some of my favorite strategies to making healthy work for you.
The world’s attention span, patience and ability to take their time has markedly dropped in the last several decades. Convenience is a big damn deal.
It has probably always been part of human nature, however now more than ever, if it ain’t convenient, you’re probably not going to do it. Unless you’re a willpower badass, making sure the things that you want to do, don’t make you pause to think “eh, is this worth it?” might be the key to your success.
When thinking about a new habit, be very aware of the amount of time, effort or decision making required. Look for ways to make it more convenient. If it’s a habit you’ve been trying to cultivate but feel that it is too inconvenient- think about what it is that makes it so. Once you know exactly WHY it feels inconvenient you’re more likely to find a solution to the problem.
Can’t seem to get in the habit of eating well, make sure you’re stocked up on healthy options that are EASY to eat. If you feel like you have to make everything from scratch but also feel like that’s just never going to happen, then maybe ordering some of your meals partially prepped or pre made for you is the solution.
Looking to ditch a bad habit? Making it inconvenient can be the trick!
Most bad habits are based on impulsivity. If you can delay your actions and really think about the consequences you may decide it’s not worth the effort.
Freeze the chocolate bar in a big block of ice and you may find yourself looking for an easier snack instead!
Distraction is similar to making something inconvenient. It’s the age old “wait 15 minutes and then see if you are still hungry” idea.
This one can be a bit difficult because you have to purposely distract yourself. But that distraction can help us resist temptation, diminish stress and stick to our good habits.
Distraction works best when it involves physical activity. Walk around the block, flip through a magazine, clean the kitchen, play with your kiddo, or paint your nails!
Research shows that cravings usually subside after about 15 minutes- as long as you’re actively distracted.
If telling yourself no is more likely to cause you to indulge in your craving, then you can always tell yourself, “if I still want it in 15 minutes, then I will have it”.
Pick One Thing
In his book The One Thing, Gary Keller lays out in wonderful detail the strategy of doing just ONE thing at a time.
I find that when we want to “get healthy” we often try to do and change everything at once. However, typically it’s unsustainable and we burn out.
With Gary’s focusing question we can figure out what one habit to tackle first. Next time you have a list of things you’d love to do think, “what’s the ONE habit I can start with that will make everything else unnecessary or easier.”
For example: cutting out fast food will make it necessary for you to eat more dinners at home, which will result in eating more whole foods and more vegetables, which will result in it being easier for you to lose weight which will then help you be able to exercise without pain in your joints which will then… and so on, see? So, pick one thing and the rest will just fall into place!
Rewards and Treats
In the interest of not writing a book:
Rewards = mostly bad for keeping habits
Treats = great!
Rewards teach us to do something for the sake of a reward and not for the benefit of the thing itself. Once the reward is gone, the behavior is gone.
Rewards also require a decision. The benefit of creating a habit is that you aren’t making any decisions. Deciding if you get the reward, if this time counts or if you deserve it requires you to use decision and willpower that the habit was supposed to allow you to avoid. The more effort involved the less likely you are to keep the habit.
Rewards also create a “finish line”. Typically we want our habits to be long term or even lifelong! Creating an “end goal” causes you to have to start again and starting again is always harder than getting started the first time.
So the challenge? How to make the habit rewarding without using rewards. Usually looking inward into what you’re getting out of the habit is the reward itself!
Treats on the other hand can be a great way to boost our energy and “feed” ourselves body and soul.
A treat is different from a reward because it is something we give ourselves just because we want it.
This is just another version of self care!
Food treats can be dangerous, so I encourage my clients to think of options that aren’t food based or are a healthy indulgence- here are some I’ve come up with:
- flipping through a magazine, cookbook, art book, or travel guide
- the occasional kombucha, fresh squeezed juice, or Braggs Apple Cider Drink
- Sleeping in occasionally
- Petting a dog or cat
- Listening to a podcast or audiobook
- Looking at family pictures
- Wandering through target or the craft store
- Watching a kid show I enjoy with my son
- A trip to the bellagio atrium
Think of some ways you can treat yourself! Having a variety of ideas from ones that cost nothing or something, take just a few minutes or a few hours, things that involve others to alone activities. Tell me what you came up with in the comments!
Some of us absolutely need external accountability in order to follow through with something for ourselves. For others it can merely be helpful.
There are many ways to set up accountability for your healthy habits including:
- Find an accountability partner. Be wary of close friends or family who may not push you as needed or that may be so close that you don’t consider them outer accountability. Spouses are often not the best accountability partner.
- Hire a coach! Not only will a coach be less likely to baby you, the fact that you are paying them may give you double accountability to get shit done.
- Find a group. Group classes, programs, challenges and even just a group of accountability partners can be fantastic accountability. Just be sure that all members are willing to give and get said accountability.
- Frame your habit as beneficial for others. My morning affirmations, visualizations and reading are as much for my husband and son as they are for me. When I make that time for myself, I am a better human, wife and mother and it effects my personal interactions through the day.
- Create accountability to a future self. Sometimes I might think “what would future Brittany say about me taking this action?” Often times thinking about how I would feel about the consequences later helps me to keep my healthy habits now.
Pairing is one of my favorite ways to create lasting and strong healthy habits.
There are two ways you can pair.
Gretchen Rubin lays out the first: “I couple two activities, one that I need or want to do, and on that I don’t particularly want to do, to get myself to accomplish them both. It’s not a reward, it’s not a treat, it’s just pairing.”
A perfect example of this can work is to only watch certain shows or listen to certain podcasts or books when you exercise. If you want to watch or listen bad enough, you’ll get your ass on that treadmill.
My definition of pairing is slightly different. I recommend pairing activities together just in general.you pair an existing already in place habit (whether you enjoy doing it or not) with a habit you want to establish.
It’s a little like the strategy of convenience.
If you have a probiotic you want to take daily, pair it with something you already do daily. Maybe the bottle and a small glass of water goes by your toothbrush. Then every time you brush, you’r reminded to take your probiotic.
For me I paired my flossing and brushing routine with my son’s bedtime. Not because I wasn’t doing it but because I was waiting too long to do it and it would either result in me snacking more at night OR I would delay going to bed because I didn’t feel like doing my bedtime routine. Now we do it together! No more nightly snacking and no more delaying bed because I was too tired to get ready for bed (wha?? I know).
Scheduling could be one of the most important strategies for getting anything done BUT you often have to use it in combination with one or more of the other strategies to make it really work.
“I don’t have time” is the excuse for just about every person who wants to create healthy habits but thinks it’s too hard to actually do.
I get it. I’m a mom and tiny people don’t give a shit about your schedule. For those things you can’t control, you do your best, but scheduling will help you take control of what you can.
There are a ton of strategies for scheduling in exercise, healthy eating, self care, etc. It comes down to making it a priority, figuring out where you can schedule it in (and how! Exercise could mean 50 reps of 2 exercises or squats while you put things away in a lower cabinet if that’s all you have) and then make it happen (with whatever other strategies you need like accountability).
Whether you use a paper or an electronic calendar start figuring out how you can schedule in your number one healthy habit. You got this! And if you need some help, schedule a FREE consultation with me and we’ll audit your calendar and come up with a way to fit your most important habit in. calendly.com/brittanyhenderson/30min Just put “Calendar Audit” in one of the question boxes.
How can you use some of these strategies to create strong habits? I’d love to know in the comments!
*this post contains affiliate links. Thanks for keeping me stocked up in awesome probiotics (<– oh hey another one!)