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5 tips to adopt a new (healthy) habit

We all want to eat healthier, exercise more and spend more time with family – but sustaining a new behaviour can be tough. 

Psychologist and professor John Norcross found that seventy five percent of people who start a new behaviour will only last a week before gradually falling back into their old habits. 

So if you want to adopt some healthy new habits during COVID (and before you are busy as hell again), here are 5 tips that science deems effective. 

1. Visualise yourself performing the behaviour

Imagine how you would feel as the person you want to be. How would you feel when you are successful? What would others say about you? Does it energise you? Do you feel good about yourself? To be successful and drive real change you must be emotionally engaged.

If you are not in any way emotionally engaged, stop now. Without a positive attitude or a drive to change, your new behaviour won’t last.

2. Make the first step small and concrete

Resisting the change at first is quite normal. While change can be fun, it can also be scary. What if you don’t succeed? To combat this, make your first step as small and straightforward as possible. If you still think getting started is too hard, make that first step even smaller i.e. an activity that only takes about 5 -10 minutes.

3. Plan actions that you can sustain

One of the biggest issues blocking behaviour change are the subconscious excuses we make to ourselves e.g “Today is a special day, I’ll do it tomorrow”. If you really want something to happen, you should accept that your day will never turn out as you expect. So make sure you plan your new habit into your day somewhere.

4. Connect your doing with existing habits

A lot of our behaviour is automatic. You get up, take a shower, have breakfast etc. Your new behaviour does not have a place in that routine yet, so it requires extra discipline to keep the intention.

However, you can actually use these existing habits as a cue for your new behaviour. For example, “After I brush my teeth, I’ll do 20 sit-ups”, or “When I come home from work, I’ll drink a cup of tea instead of a beer.” 

The more you connect your new behaviour to your existing daily routines, the more likely you will change long-term.

 5. Keep it up for three months

Inevitably you will reach a point where you have demonstrated that you can change. The people around you compliment you and you reward yourself for sustaining it for a whole month. 

Unfortunately, this is a significant point in your journey because after one month people often fall back into their old routines and gradually discontinue this new behaviour. 

Experts suggest that if you really want to make the new habit stick, you should keep it going for three months. Researchers found that at three months your new behaviour becomes automatic – just like brushing your teeth.

Adopting a new behaviour will boost your outlook and energy. You won’t always love the process, but it will make you feel better in the long run. Don’t change too many things at once, as this can be a reason to quit sooner. Try it with one thing and see how you go. Good luck in adopting your new healthy habit in the next few months!

John Norcross researched behavioural Change for 30 years. The tips mentioned above are derived from his book ‘Changeology’.

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