Make those good in­ten­tions per­ma­nent

Weight Watchers Magazine (Australia) - - Contents -

Be­lieve you can make the change.

Have you ever no­ticed how sur­pris­ingly easy it can be to start a new habit? Once you’ve made a de­ci­sion to walk more, lis­ten to your body or eat healthy foods, you find a boost in en­thu­si­asm that makes those first cou­ple of days a cinch. But then, as time passes and the ini­tial ex­cite­ment fades, it can of­ten take so much more ef­fort to put on those train­ers and walk out the door.

In that mo­ment, in­stead of ask­ing your­self, “Why even bother?”, give your­self the men­tal equiv­a­lent of a high­five, be­cause this is all part of cre­at­ing a new habit. Dr He­lena Popovic, a med­i­cal doc­tor and ex­pert on how the brain can in­flu­ence your body, ex­plains that this re­sis­tance doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re on the right track.

“Cre­at­ing a new habit is like getting a car that’s been used to driv­ing on the high­way and tak­ing it off-road. The minute you go off-road, there are more bumps, it’s a lot slower and harder, and you have to con­cen­trate a lot more. And that’s ex­actly the same in our brains. When we cre­ate a new habit, we are sim­ply form­ing new con­nec­tions be­tween brain cells,” says Dr Popovic.

“The first thing to re­alise is that re­sis­tance is part of the ter­ri­tory. Peo­ple think that if some­thing is hard, it’s not meant to be. But that dif­fi­culty is nor­mal. What we of­ten don’t re­alise is that ev­ery habit – help­ful or un­help­ful – is cre­ated through rep­e­ti­tion.”

And that’s the des­ti­na­tion we’re head­ing to­wards: we want to keep re­peat­ing an ac­tion over and over again so we don’t even have to think about it any­more. Here’s how to ease the chal­lenge of do­ing ex­actly that, in or­der to leave your brain space avail­able for more in­ter­est­ing things, like day­dream­ing about a fa­mous Chris (Hemsworth, Pratt, Pine, Evans – now you have time to de­cide which one).

Pig­gy­back a new healthy habit off an­other habit

This isn’t cheat­ing, it’s be­ing smart. The idea is to at­tach a new habit to some­thing you al­ready do, ac­cord­ing to Dr Popovic. “It be­comes so much eas­ier to cre­ate a new habit if there’s some­thing

you’re al­ready do­ing that you can link it to,” she says. For ex­am­ple, if you want to im­prove your self-talk by re­peat­ing an af­fir­ma­tion such as, “I like and value my­self, with­out com­par­ing my­self to oth­ers.” Dr Popovic sug­gests link­ing the af­fir­ma­tion to brush­ing your teeth. If you share a bath­room and feel self-con­scious hav­ing the af­fir­ma­tion stuck to the mir­ror, you might keep a flower on the sink to re­mind you to say your af­fir­ma­tion. “That kind of habit can es­tab­lish it­self in a cou­ple of weeks,” Dr Popovic says.

A study in the Bri­tish Journal of Health Psy­chol­ogy showed sim­i­lar re­sults. The re­searchers found that at­tach­ing a new habit to an ex­ist­ing be­hav­iour, com­bined with a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude and the abil­ity to re­mem­ber, led to bet­ter habit for­ma­tion. In fact, for peo­ple who wanted to floss, they were like­lier to still be do­ing it eight months later if they flossed af­ter brush­ing their teeth rather than be­fore.

Be­lieve you can change

Speak­ing of af­fir­ma­tions, if you be­lieve you can change, you have a much higher chance of stick­ing to a new habit. A study pub­lished in the journal Health Psy­chol­ogy showed that peo­ple were more likely to reg­u­larly at­tend a walk­ing group if they were op­ti­mistic about their abil­ity to con­tinue with this healthy be­hav­iour, even af­ter re­laps­ing. So if you find your­self miss­ing a walk­ing date with friends, don’t take that as ev­i­dence you’re des­tined to never be fit. In­stead, treat it as just one missed day, then book in a date for the next one and start look­ing for­ward to it.

Don’t just ditch an old habit; re­place it

“When it comes to break­ing a habit, it’s much eas­ier to swap a habit than to drop it, which cre­ates a vac­uum,” says Dr Popovic. “Again, let’s take a ba­sic ex­am­ple. If you want to stop drink­ing soft drinks, re­place it with an­other drink. This is go­ing to be much eas­ier than just not drink­ing it at all.” You might re­place it with soda water and lime. Or, if you want to drink less coffee, you might re­place your caf­feine crav­ing with a pot of herbal tea.

Make your­self a habit sand­wich

Ad­ding a new habit in-be­tween two ex­ist­ing rou­tine ac­tiv­i­ties will also help in­crease your chances of mak­ing it stick, ac­cord­ing to Dr Popovic. “An ex­am­ple of in­ter­pos­ing a habit be­tween ac­tiv­i­ties is if you al­ways drive a cer­tain route, and you know there’s a park along the way, you can stop there and do a bit of ex­er­cise,” says Dr Popovic.

This is ex­actly how WW mem­ber and this month’s fit­ness star Lorena An­toun hit her daily step tar­gets. She would walk ev­ery morn­ing af­ter drop­ping her son at school and be­fore ar­riv­ing back home.

Habit-mak­ing 101

Cas­san­dra Dunn, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist, has th­ese three tips to keep you go­ing.

1. Start small and make one lit­tle change at a time.

Try­ing to over­haul your whole life all at once can de­plete willpower but willpower is like mus­cle – it gets stronger with use – so ex­er­cise it in small bursts.

2. For­get mo­ti­va­tion and fo­cus on con­sis­tency.

Con­sis­tency means do­ing things at the same time and same place, as much as pos­si­ble, so that your brain starts to as­so­ciate th­ese things with the be­hav­iour and it be­comes au­to­matic.

3. Re­mem­ber your ‘why’.

It’s the big­ger-pic­ture rea­son for mak­ing changes that will help you stay on track when the day-­to­day ef­fort feels te­dious or dif­fi­cult. Hav­ing a big­ger goal or rea­son to in­spire you to keep go­ing can help you hang in there un­til habits take hold.

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