Add a desired action to an existing habit to make it stick.

Lunch Hour Lesson #26

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A few weeks ago I talked about Journaling for Awareness, and being in tune with the small signals our bodies give us. Observation without judgment.

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If, upon having these observations, you come across something that you would like to change, or do differently, you may decide to create a new habit.

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This can be anything from doing a few warm up twists before going for your daily walk. Or going for a daily walk in the first place. Or remembering to take your supplements with meals. Or drinking a big glass of water first thing upon waking.

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The trick is to eventually have it feel strange NOT to have done this action. That would mean it is an integrated part of your day, so the brain is able to say, wait – what’s missing? if you forget.

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What habits should you create? A new habit should somehow make life better, and because of that better bonus, you’ll be motivated to continue. Let’s take two examples: taking a walk, and taking your supplements.

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Maybe as you are observing your life without judgment and being in tune with your body, you notice that you slept really well one night. Ask yourself: did I do something differently the day before to make this happen? If you had taken a walk, and then you do it again the next day and sleep well again, that’s a sign that the walk is worth keeping as a habit. (If you feel worse after walking, it’s not a habit worth keeping, but that would be another area of investigation – maybe you’re walking too far).

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Same thing with the supplements. If you have been taking stomach acid with meals, and noting how you feel, and then the bottle runs out, and all of a sudden, you notice that you feel much heavier after eating than before. Like an uncomfortable “full” feeling when you haven’t even eaten that much. Then, upon re-introducing the stomach acid, this heavy feeling goes away. Because you were paying attention, you noticed that the stomach acid made life better, and so it’s worth keeping as a habit.

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At this point, the trick is to remember to do it. There is a lot of research out there on how to make and keep habits. The strategy that I’ve found most successful is to attach the desired action to something I’m already doing that is easy for me and I don’t have to think about. Here’s how it would work: say you already take a break from work at 10:30 am, and you usually go get a snack then. To create the new habit, instead of just going to get the snack, you would go take a quick walk around the block, and then come back and have the snack. Yes, it takes a little more time, but it is still allocated within the same break window.

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Now for the supplements. The trick is to portion out all that you’ll need for the day, each morning, but you must attach that action to a habit that you’re already doing. Usually drink a cup of tea in the morning? Keep your supplements near the teapot, on the counter, so you see them. As your tea is brewing, portion out your supplements into a cute little container that you like – something that you’d want to take out and put on the table for each meal. (This is better than just a plastic baggie, which won’t seem “special” enough to remember.)

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When it comes time to actually take the supplements at meals, it involves getting used to what goes into preparing to eat a meal. If you usually get out your eating supplies, and you have a napkin and a fork and glass of water, the supplements should be right there too. They should be a visible part of the meal setup, to where it eventually seems strange not to have them out. So, this again goes with making the new habit part of something you’re already doing. You wouldn’t get out your fork and napkin and put them in your pocket, so your supplements shouldn’t be hidden away there either. (If people see your supplements and ask about them, you can tell them a little about what you’re doing – not a big deal.)

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Setting alarms on your phone, or scheduling a task into your calendar is the best way I’ve found to start making these habits regular. If you normally eat at the same time every day, set alarms that say, “Take supplements!” Or for the daily walk, set an alarm. Eventually when you’ve mastered the new habit, the alarm will become unnecessary, as long as the habit is attached to something you’re already doing.

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Lastly, small things each day are much easier to remember and actually do than a big thing three times a week, for example. One day that you don’t do the thing can stretch to two, and then you’re out of the habit. The exception would be like a scheduled weekly exercise class that you’ve committed to.

Weekend Tip

Choose something new you’d like to implement as a habit. Decide what existing habit you will attach it to. Practice the new routine this weekend. If necessary, equip yourself with what you’ll need to make this new habit be successful.

Lunch Hour Lesson #26: How to Create a New Habit

Posted by Allison Mädl Nutritional Therapy and Education on Thursday, May 2, 2019