Deciding to be more active is a brilliant first step. But how do you create new habits that really stick? Here are some tips that might help.
1. Work out what you want to do differently
Seems obvious, but spend some time looking out for ideas and decide what you want to try. Make a list of activities that you like the idea of – you don’t need to try all of them at once – then think through what each of them means in practice. Want to walk more? Will you change your route to work? Could you get off the bus a couple of stops early? If you need to leave the house earlier, can you build that into your daily routine? Be as clear as possible about the changes you’re going to make.
2. Think about what might get in the way
If you want to walk home from work every day, what might stop you? If you think you’ll be working late too often, think about switching to the morning commute. If you think you’ll be tired and tempted to jump on a bus, try and find a different route that will avoid the bus stop. Don’t argue yourself to a standstill – just think through the plan most likely to succeed.
3. Listen to your inner voice of reason
There are a hundred reasons not to get out and about. It’s cold. There’s laundry to do. I’ve a had a tough day. We all think about them. But we also hear the inner voice of reason that tells us that we’ll feel better for doing it – right now and for the rest of our life. Hand that voice the megaphone. It knows what it’s talking about.
4. Remove the triggers for unhealthy habits
If your friends are likely to tempt you to go out with them instead of getting active, stop going for a while. Not permanently, just until you’ve embedded your new habit into your routine. Look for someone who will encourage you and inspire you to keep going and talk to them about it instead.
5. Imagine yourself being more active
You can retrain the way your brain works. It can make hard choices become easier. Spend time each day thinking about what your life will be like with the habits you want to build. Picture yourself being active and really enjoying it, feeling more energetic, happier. The idea is that the more you think about something—and do it—the more it becomes wired in your brain, making your first choice the healthier one.
6. Ditch the trash talk
Notice when you start to think about yourself negatively. When you do, change the script. If you think ‘I can’t do it’, change that thought to ‘I’ve decided to do it – and I will’. If you think ‘I’m failing, I’m not making progress’, change that to ‘I’m doing more than I was and I’m getting healthier’. Stop judging yourself harshly and start celebrating your growing confidence and success.
7. Take one step at a time
Not everyone can go from couch potato to running legend in a few weeks. Life gets in the way. If you have to miss a chance to be active, do something small that will keep you on track. Had to miss your Zumba class? Try to squeeze in a brisk 15-minute walk later – even if it’s a few laps round the block. You’ll keep reinforcing your new habit, even if you can’t do everything you planned to do every day.
8. Forgive yourself, but keep going
People falter. That’s especially true when we’re trying to break long-term patterns. New habits can take several weeks to stick. Don’t beat yourself up. Get back on the horse as quickly as possible and leave any regret choking on your dust.