Even when we know what we have to do to live a healthier lifestyle, doing it isn’t as easy as it should be. Eating healthier, moving more, surrounding ourselves with a great social network, and going to bed earlier are a few of the things no one could argue would help them live a healthier life. However, we are all busy in different ways, and it is hard to make new habits stick.
I will outline the system I use with my patients and expand on it with an example of a patient who wants to increase movement or exercise in their life.
Fake it before you make it. It is so important to change your mental attitude and to “become” the goal you set. So, I have my patients come up with an affirmation to repeat every morning. These can be as practical or as fun you wish. The patient may start every morning meditating on the phrase “I am an active person” or “I am a hiker, a biker, a walker and a sun lover.” The second part of faking it is outlining a specific goal. For example, instead of “I will become more active in four weeks,” the goal would be “I will walk 60 minutes a day every day in 30 days.”
Start small. All of the steps toward a goal should feel attainable and easy to do. In this stage, I have patients break it down in conceivable chunks to achieve the specific goal they set for themselves in step one. For this patient above, it might be, week one: “I will walk for 5 minutes a day.” Week two: “I will walk for 15 minutes a day.” Week three: “I will walk for 30 minutes a day.” Week four: “I will walk 45 minutes a day.” Week 5: “I will walk 60 minutes a day, every day.”
Schedule it. If it isn’t scheduled, it will not happen. In this example, adding “after dinner” at the end of each weekly goal as the specific time the activity will be completed now makes it a scheduled activity.
No set cheat times. When starting a new habit, you should plan to do it every day. It is confusing and takes a lot of mental energy to keep track of on days and off days.
Have a fall strategy. Knowing there will be a day you may not do your new goal activity, have a plan for it. The main strategy in our example would be, if for some reason you were unable to walk one day, don’t beat yourself up or decide it’s a lost cause and just stop. The next day it starts over, and you walk. You can’t let one day of skipping your goal activity turn into two days, which turns into one week, which sabotages your new habit.
Do a habit check. Once your new habit feels like an old habit, and feels very weird if you don’t do it, you have successfully created a new habit. But, remember, life can interfere, so if you find yourself falling out of the habit, quickly go back to step one and start again.
Dr. Fayssoux is an integrative primary care practitioner with Ohm & Oot Wellness Medicine in Rancho Mirage and can be reached at (760) 469.9900. For more information, visit www.KinderfayssouxMD.com.