So, I recently wrote a blog on "How to break a habit". Now that I am successfully weening myself from my vices, I have realized that ,during the process, there have been many instances when I have substituted another thing or action in place of my habit to help me overcome the urge to indulge. This intrigued me.

Now admittedly, some of these substitutions have been little better than the original bad habit. Instead of having chocolate (to which I have a food sensitivity), at the end of a meal, I started having a cup of decaf coffee, which has given me stomach rot. Some substitutions have been more beneficial, like instead of indulging my OCD and idly picking at my scars, I now rub on Vitamin E oil when I feel my trigger, consequently my skin is not only healed but looks great. 

So this blog is on "How to form a healthier habit" as I have found it a great way to actually help break a bad one. If you need additional tactics on how to rid yourself of all your bad habits or you would like to incorporate a healthy habit into your life but don't know how to go about it, this one is for you.

Now I am no expert on habit formation, however, as well as my own small triumphs,  I also have experienced  several breakthroughs with some clients of mine recently. I have been working with them on various things from increasing the amount of physical activity they perform each week, focusing on a developing a specific weaker area of of their body or helping them give up junk food. 

My Coaching Hotline Client, Gary has a sedentary job in an office but is physically active after work and at weekends playing soccer for a local league team. Gary is 6'2" and has typical "footballer's" legs - big quads (legs) and glutes (butt). As he has time for little else, afterwork and his soccer commitments, Gary was feeling his sport specific training left him looking out of proportion. He had developed "gladiatorial" thighs after years of soccer training but had a smaller "weedier" upper body. So when he approached me with this problem we applied the following strategies:

1. Focus on one habit - We all have lots of things we would like to change, but if we try to change them all at once we are setting ourselves up for failure.  I encourage my clients to start by introducing one small change in to their routine and once this becomes a habit, we introduce another one. This way, you will not feel overwhelmed by the prospect of initiating the change. You will also not be exhausted from the mental stress of feeling like you have to change so many aspects of your life all at once.

2. Introduce your habit slowly - It doesn't have to be "all or nothing". Start by doing your new habit once a day. We use up a lot of our energy trying to change and this makes the task seem more difficult than it has to be. To change your entire diet on Monday will probably see you fail by Tuesday. Plus, many people don't have the time to invest in a new habit immediately so they feel like they may as well not start. For example, if you want to start an exercise regime but don't have an hour in the day to spare, start by every time you have a break at work, when you stand up from your desk, do 10 jumping jacks. Let's say you leave your desk 10 times a day that's 100 jacks, over a week that adds up to 1/2 a pound of fat loss. You don't have to commit to doing a full hour long sweat session to make a difference. 
3. Connect the dots - Try to make a mental connection between something that is already a habit and the new one you are trying to form. That way it is simply an extension of something you already do, rather than a whole new thing to incorporate in to your day. For example, you may already brush your teeth (at least I hope you do). Try forming a flossing habit too by flossing one tooth before you brush, then the next time floss two teeth. Try to form a connection between reaching for the toothbrush and flossing. Better yet, leave yourself a cheerful visual reminders in the form of a post it notes like I do.

4. Find the joy  - If you view your habit as something you are doing for moral reasons, because someone says it is what you should do, or it is "good for you" but it is not enjoyable then you will likely fail. You have to make the link in your brain between what you are doing and how you can ultimately get enjoyment or fulfillment from it. Countless studies have shown that if you can motivate someone by the promise of some thing positive rather than scare or shame them into doing something out of fear then they are much more likely to succeed. Put a carrot on the end of your stick -  If your goal is to get outdoors and be more physically active, invite a friend on a walk to the coffee shop, instead of driving. When you get to your destination, not only have you spent some quality time with a buddy, you have burned calories and have enough of a caffeine hit that you can walk all the way back too.

5. Tell a friend - The best way to succeed is to make yourself accountable and the best way to do that is by telling people about what you are doing. For my own habit formation, I ask my partner or close friend to check in with me on occasion for a "progress report". I may not always have good news for them but it certainly makes me stop and think before I revert back to my olds ways or skip out on my new habit. That millisecond pause is often enough to help me complete my habit for that day.

6. Learn from others -  You will probably find that once you do start to share your story with others that they open up. They will have useful advice to offer or introduce you to new ideas and ways that they have succeeded in the past with things. As I said, we all have ways in which we would like to improve ourselves so chances are they will have been through a similar process and can share their wisdom.

7. Set yourself up for success - With a little forethought this can be easily achieved. If you are trying to give up junk food, empty your cupboards of candy and chips and pre prepare some healthy snacks like hummus and carrot sticks or celery and natural nut butter. Ask your work colleagues not to offer you anything from the box of donuts they bring in and have a healthy alternative ready so that when they do indulge you can still  join in, but you don't have to feel guilty about it. If you are invited out for dinner, ask if you can recommend the restaurant so you can preview the menu to ensure that you can make a healthy choice on the night.

8. Have patience - The whole point is to start slowly so that you don't get overwhelmed - so exercise patience. If you start by doing something for 5 minutes a day soon you will find that you get a certain sense of enjoyment out of it. It will make you feel proud and smug, like you are an achiever. This will spur you on to do it more and more frequently. Allow yourself to have lots of small successes rather than one big one. That way you will have more to celebrate. Just think, if you change just one small thing a month, you could have 36 new healthier habits in the next 3 years, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now concentrate on 5 minutes a day, until you have acquired your new habit forming skills.

Gary has now incorporated the 8 steps to habit formation, outlined above, and is seeing great results. As he already did enough exercise for his lower body, Gary focused his one habit change on his upper body. He decided to start doing 10 press - ups each time he laced up his soccer boots and not invest in a gym membership and embark on some crazy weight lifting plan right away. An easy attainable goal.  Using his soccer boots as the "trigger" also made him make a connection between what he was doing already (playing soccer) and forming his new habit (10 push ups). Gary decided to tell his cousin, who also plays soccer, what he was doing. As it turns out, his cousin went through the same thing and had invested in a pull up bar that he has in the doorway to his bathroom. Every time he visits the bathroom, he does 10 pull ups. Gary thought this was a great idea and now does the same. He built up gradually and is now doing at least 50 upper body exercises a day. After just 8 weeks, Gary is seeing the change in his physique and feels that his soccer performance has improved because of it. So much so, he recently was chosen to play in a friendly match against the Olympic soccer team from Gibon Check out this photo of him in action - Go Gary.

What is on your list of habits to break and habits to form? What methods have worked for you and what has lead you to fail?



07/26/2013 5:42pm

Habbits are crucial for our health.

09/05/2013 4:43pm

Great site, i've been thinking about getting a free blog from weebly, do you recommend it?


Leave a Reply