Building Good Habits.

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What if life could be easier?

What if things like getting good nutrition and regular exercise could be effortless?  Building good habits will help you achieve your short term and more importantly long term health goals. Many people don’t become overweight overnight.  Years of bad habits help to slowly add pounds of fat around the their belly. Now imagine what years of good habits can do!

Programming new behaviors into habits is a way to minimize the struggle of getting the little things accomplished. A bit of self-discipline will yield new, low-maintenance habits that produce long term results. Many small good habits can combine to help achieve ones goals on auto-pilot.

Experts suggest that it takes about a month to make a habit stick. Three or four weeks is a relatively short amount of time, but it is long enough to get through the newness of a habit. Once conditioned, habits become automatic. In the space of a calendar page, habits become routine.

Being consistent is essential. Habits are more likely to stick when they are cultivated on a daily basis. Going to the gym, for example, becomes much more likely when it becomes a part of each day, whereas going to the gym only a few times compromises consistency and makes locking in the habit difficult.

Doing the same thing the same way at the same time sounds boring but it is essential. Cues like time of day and location reinforce a habit. If you intend to work out, pick a gym and a time and make sure you get to that place at the same time each day.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and the same is true of habits. Doing too much too soon can be daunting and, ultimately, can prevent one from sticking to the 30-day habit commitment. Start small: begin by running a quarter-mile and build from there to reach the end goal of a two-mile run.

Two weeks into working on a habit, it may begin to feel like the habit is routine. However, don’t be fooled. Keep reminding yourself—use sticky notes, phone memos, voicemails, whatever it takes—to stick to your new habit. Be diligent. Without diligence, you may miss a day or two, which defeats the initial purpose and the hard work you already committed.

Accountability is important. It is easy to slack on a habit when going it alone. When there is another person involved it makes staying vigilant easier. Asking your family or friends to help is a great way to insure a habit becomes permanent.

A trigger precedes the execution of a habit. It is a ritual. For example, a smoker may choose to wear a rubber band on his or her wrist. When the urge to smoke arises, the smoker snaps the band against the wrist, offering a trigger—in this case a painful one—that reminds them to avoid lighting up.

Expect to stumble. Every attempt to change a habit or to start a new routine is a challenge. So, do not be discouraged if there are struggles or rough times. Occasional challenges are part of the road to self-improvement. And, when you aren’t perfect or when things seem particularly challenging don’t hesitate to reach out to friends or family to provide encouragement and support.

A good tip if starting a new habit involves removing something from your life, be certain to replace what you lost. If you are trying to eat less sweets find something that can replace that bad habit. Instead of eating desert after dinner try non caffeinated tea or taking a walk. Whatever you do, be sure that you replace the need with something positive and helpful.

Remember to use your “but”. Negative thought patterns threaten to derail your best efforts toward habituation. When negative thoughts surface, and they will, interrupt the negativity with “but.” So, the thought might go like this: “I can’t run a full two miles. But, I run a bit further each day and I will get where I want to be.” “But” is the tool that helps cross the bridge from negative, self-defeating thoughts to positive, self-affirming thoughts.

Make your surroundings work for you. Being around a lot of junk food when attempting to cultivate a healthy diet threatens to derail your habit. Get rid of the junk food and eliminate temptation.

The company you keep is important. In this case, choosing to be around peers who have habits you seek to emulate is essential. Going to the gym lets you mingle with people who like fitness and encourages to maintain your fitness.

Look at your month-long efforts objectively. Science tells us that there are no failed experiments. There are just different experiments that yield different results. The same is true here. Nothing you do is a failure. But everything you do will give you ideas about how to change and improve in the future.

Visualize yourself performing the bad habit, then see yourself push the bad habit aside in favor of a positive alternative. Visualize the positive state that results from casting aside the bad habit. Practice this routine of visualizing the positive overtake the negative until it becomes second nature.

Writing down your intentions to change a habit provides clarity and focus. The intention becomes a physical, tangible thing. This provides added accountability through the journey. Posting your before picture on your refrigerator can help remind you of your goal to creating healthy habits.

Be aware of how changing a habit benefits you. Research health and wellness topics in order to reinforce why dietary changes can be helpful. Notice how your body feels—stronger, more energized—after a workout.

Know that pain accompanies growth. Expect to be sore after starting an exercise regimen. Also, appreciate that the downsides of not making a change can be a source of motivation.

Change the things that feel right to you, rather than the things that you feel pressured to change. Don’t “should” yourself to death. Your habits and goals are uniquely yours. They need to feel authentic. By pursue the changes that keep you motivated you will easily create the habits that lead to a long and healthy life.

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