How do we design healthy habits that last?
It’s that time of year again! The festive celebrations are ramping up, extra boxes of chocolates and seasonal treats are finding their way into staff rooms and Christmas parties are being planned. With all this enforced merriment it’s tempting to sack off any thoughts of building a healthier lifestyle until January, the traditional month of resolution when we try to undo the “damage” and plan for “our healthiest year ever?”
The going gets tough
The trouble is, when January comes the big plan is often just too big. Running every morning before work, never having another biscuit between consults, always making a healthy pack lunch; these are hard things to do and not sustainable when life gets in the way.
So when a bad night on call upsets the new plans, the run doesn’t happen, a biscuit or two are nibbled to compensate for the unmade lunch, we feel guilty, frustrated and down on ourselves as yet another attempt at being “healthy” has failed.
The ABC of crafting healthy behaviours
I fell into this cycle all too frequently, until I learnt a different way to make sustainable lifestyle changes.
On my journey from Equine Vet to Health Coach I studied with Prof BJ Fogg from The Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University. His research into why humans behave the way we do has led to the development of one of the simplest and most effective frameworks for building new habits, resolutions that last a lifetime not just for January.
The framework is based on 3 underlying principles:
1) A new habit is easier to remember if it is linked to an existing behaviour that you already do automatically.
2) A habit that is really simple will be easier to maintain and can grow. Habits requiring more time or energy will be harder to keep alive and will reduce confidence when they aren’t maintained.
3) Our emotions create our habits. If we feel good about ourselves we are more likely to make positive, health promoting decisions. Linking a positive emotion to a new habit will help wire it in and make it more likely we keep it going.
These principles are summarised by this simple acronym:
A: for Anchor – the behaviour you already do every day – e.g. brushing your teeth
B: for new Behaviour – a tiny version of the new habit you want to develop – e.g. 2 push ups
C: for Celebration – the physical or mental action you do or think to feel positive about doing your new behaviour – e.g. fist pump, or sense of pride.
Tiny habits build confidence and health
This framework can be used for any goal or aspiration you have, from losing weight and getting better sleep to improving your relationships. By choosing to start with a tiny version of your desired behaviour you can ensure that no matter how bad the day at work or the night with the kids has been you can still keep up the habit.
With this consistency comes confidence that you are someone who can make positive changes and over time one small habit will have ripple effects on other areas of your life. For example, a few minutes of evening stretches can lead to an improved bedtime routine and a better night’s sleep making rising a few minutes earlier for some relaxing deep breaths or journalling more possible.
This Tiny Habit approach allows you to start making positive changes straight away. You don’t have to wait to clear your diary, buy new equipment or pay an expensive personal trainer, you can just start.
And by starting now, when everyone around you may seem to have given up until January, you can build your confidence and start 2023 feeling excited about the year ahead without the guilt and pressure to achieve unrealistic goals in over ambitious time scales.
I hope this helps inspire you to consider some new habits and reassure you that it is never too late or too difficult if you start tiny! If you would like guidance on habit design, please feel free to contact me, I’d be very happy to help.
Thanks for reading. I wish you a very happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year!
About the author
Alice discovered her passion for Health Coaching as she up-levelled her own fitness from 5 minutes of exercise before the kids woke up to winning ultra marathons. As a former Equine Surgeon, she combines a rigorous scientific background with Nutrition and Tiny Habits Coaching Certifications to support overwhelmed mums loose weight.
With 17 years experience in Equine Practice, Alice specialises in helping women within the veterinary industry, understanding fully the unique challenges this career presents and the constant juggle of work and family commitments.
She lives in Northamptonshire with her husband, Mike, a partner at Towcester Veterinary Centre, two daughters and collection of furry friends.
Tiny Habits: Why starting small makes lasting change easy. B J Fogg.
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