It takes an average of 66 days to turn a new behaviour into a habit. During this time the new thing you are doing can feel quite unnatural – if you’ve been doing something another way for a long time, changing things up can feel quite forced. It is normal to feel the need to resist the change, but if you persevere and keep up the new behaviour it will eventually become part of your routine and be that much easier to keep up for the long term.
If you’ve paid attention in the first two posts of this series your goal will be something that you see as a priority to get done and also be something that is realistic for you to achieve, which will make it all that more easier to stay on track, but read on for some more tips to help keep you on track to embedding your new habit into your routine.
1. Plan for the setbacks
It is likely that you will fall off the wagon at some stage during this process, but as the saying goes – it doesn’t matter how many times you fall off the horse, as long as you get back up again! The more you plan for the falls, the more likely you will be to get back on track. Therefore it pays to have a think about what could go wrong. What could get in the way of you achieving your goal? What excuses will you use to talk yourself out of getting up off the couch and getting outside for your walk? And how can you handle these situations? You know yourself best and if this is something that you have tried to work on in the past you are an expert in your own excuses. Sit down and brainstorm all of the things that are likely to get in your way and think honestly of some solutions that will work for you.
If you know that you’re going to make excuses about being too tired after you’ve sat down to watch TV after dinner, make a plan to get around this by making yourself go for your walk before you can watch TV. Keep you runners by the door so they are the first thing you see when you get home, or keep them on the couch so you are reminded of your promise to yourself to go for your walk first.
2. Keep track of your achievements
When we first start a new behaviour it’s easy to be gung-ho about it, but there comes a point when the effort becomes a little too hard and the benefits that you originally set out to achieve seem a little too far off and life seems to get in the way. Whether it’s a simple gold star sticker or cross on your calendar, or something a little more elaborate, keeping track of your achievements and progress will help you to keep your new behaviour top of mind in the medium term while you are embedding it into your routine and making it a habit.
There’s lots of different ways to keep track of your achievements, but the main thing is to focus on the positives. It’s all too easy to focus on the days you’ve missed your walk or not got in your 2 serves of fruit, but that’s not what keeping track is about. Try to focus on your progress towards your goal, rather than trying to achieve perfection. Look back on how you were going a few weeks ago and if you’re walking more often than you were or for longer than you were, or getting even one piece of fruit in a day compared to none, then you’re taking steps towards your goal. Even if they’re small steps, they are still steps, and small steps are going to get you there quicker than no steps at all.
3. Get other people involved
We’re more likely to stay on track when other people know what we are doing. If people are going to ask you how you are going with your goals that will give you a little bit of incentive to get out there and put in the work to achieve them. So tell as many supportive people as you can. People that will help you brainstorm when you hit a barrier. A close friend or partner who will push you to get out there when you’re feeling like you can’t and cheer you on when you’re making progress.
Better yet, get other people to join you. Find a walking buddy or someone else who has a similar goal to you. If your goal is to eat more vegetables, you could share recipes with someone who has the same goal to help keep things interesting.
4. Reward your success
Remember to give yourself a pat on the back to celebrate your success in staying on track. Positive reinforcement can go a long way to helping us feel like the effort we are putting in is worthwhile. Keep your rewards timely and appropriate. Rewarding yourself with a chocolate bar after every workout is neither timely nor appropriate if your goal is to lose weight. A more appropriate reward might be to give yourself a night out at the movies when you’ve completed x number of workouts in a fortnight, or a new pair of runners or some new workout gear when you’ve been on track for a month.
Try to reward your behaviours and progress rather than outcomes – the difference being that you have control over your behaviours but not entirely over the outcomes. This is particularly true with weight loss, where the number on the scales is not completely under your control. Many other things such as hormones, bodily processes, hydration, body composition and scale accuracy can effect the number on the scale, so rewarding yourself based on that number doesn’t really make much sense. However, rewarding yourself for taking those steps and changing your behaviours is much more empowering and will give you a bigger boost towards achieving what you set out to do.
5. Re-assess when necessary
If things aren’t working, there is little point sticking with the same cycle. Remember, if you don’t get to where you want to be, it isn’t you that has failed – it’s your plan. Don’t let it get you down, go back to the drawing board, make a new (& better) plan and keep re-assessing as needed until you find what works for you. Maybe you’ve bitten off more than you can chew right now? Then try to break it down into smaller chunks! Have you had some unforeseen barriers get in your way? Then go back and think of some ways to get around them!
Beating yourself up over not being able to do something isn’t going to help you do it, in fact it is just likely to make you want to give up more. Negative self talk is only going to reduce your confidence in your ability to change, so quit talking bad about yourself and get serious about finding what works for you. If this goal is your priority, you will find a way!
How do you like to keep yourself on track with your goals? If you’ve had trouble keeping up your resolutions in the past, what part of your plan didn’t work for you?