Three steps to healthier habits

by Ruth Griffiths

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions that involve personal change. If you are like most people I know, you have already fallen off the wagon. Don’t despair; it’s never too late to learn a new habit.

When we want to make personal changes, most of us try to change too many things at once or set goals beyond our reach. When we make a mistake on the way to reaching that goal, we feel like a failure and just give up.

Take exercise as an example. I might set out to do 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. But life gets in the way and I might not reach that goal one week. That’s not my cue to abandon my exercise goals.  It just means I need to figure out where my plan went wrong, refine the plan and then get on with it.

There’s nothing magical about New Year’s Day for personal change. You can choose any day to begin your journey for change. But the best day to change is “today.” Don’t put it off to tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes.

Most of the things we want to change in our lives come under the heading of “bad habits.”  A habit is just something we do over and over without thinking about it much. 

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible just to “cut out” a habit. The hole in your life left by not doing that behaviour will fill up at light speed. For example, what happens when I say, “For the next minute don’t think about doughnuts.” You not only need to eliminate a behaviour, you need to find a substitute behaviour. So instead of thinking about doughnuts, drink a glass of water.

Keep your plan for change as simple as possible. In fact, three basic steps are all you need.

  1. Write down your plan.
  2. Identify the triggers for the behaviour you want to change in yourself and decide which behaviours you want to substitute.
  3. Focus on doing the replacement behaviours every single time the triggers happen, for about 30 days.