If you ever wonder how to maintain healthy habits then I’m guessing you have goals that you’re not achieving, or at least not maintaining for the long term.
Yet you’re a bright, capable and successful person, and you’ve achieved many a lofty goal over the years.
But is this the case in every area of your life? Perhaps you are super-successful in your career, your social life is thriving and you’re being an awesome parent.
But what about your health and wellbeing? Are you achieving healthy habits in this area?
You’re not along in wondering how to maintain healthy habits. I’ve heard it time and again that as the other goals, demands and priorities take over, time spent on one’s personal health can become squeezed. Perhaps just an afterthought or even forgotten completely… until that wake up call months or years down the road where suddenly it’s urgent.
You decide you’re fed up of being exhausted all the time and having to use your holidays to recover. Or maybe you suddenly realise you can’t keep up with the kids. Perhaps your doctor broke some lifestyle related health scare to you. Or maybe you have a beach holiday booked or wedding to attend and you feel terrible about how you look.
Some will just shrug their shoulders and accept their lot – this is ‘just life’. Many people jump on the next big thing, a crash diet, some kind of detox tea, a crazy exercise regimen or one of the many reasons I’m not a fan of the diet industry.
Short term gain has a kind of truthiness – it feels good to start afresh, 100% ‘on it’ for 90 days. Until it stops as is the nature these things. After all, what busy professional has time to focus on one’s self for longer than that?
But what happens next?
Old habits creep back in?
Of course, until we say we’re back ‘on it’ the next time the pain of not being ‘on it’ exceeds the pain of that crazy diet 🙁
But what would long term sustainable coaching look like?
Here’s an idea – but it means dissecting your day which as it happens is filled with triggers, habits and rewards.
For sustainable change, the goal is to build the skills to be able to maintain habits that are supportive of your goal and in line with your values. Habits – what we do – are what make us who we are.
How To Create Healthy Habits
Step 1 – Review Your Current Situation
Even if you think you know yourself well this is worth spending time to do properly. Keep a notepad with you all day, and log your activities for an entire day.
Include times you wake up, commute, go to work, workout or exercise, hobbies and pastimes, meals, snacks, social events and the time you go to bed.
Log all activities within those times such as work might be broken down into computer time, which again may be broken down further. Did you snack at your desk? Did you spend 30 minutes on social media? The more detail you can add the better.
Log Your Activities
Log everything you do in a day and highlight any activities that support your goal in green, and any that hinder your goal in red.
- Start by printing and using this time diary.
- Pick a day to keep a time diary. (You can do this for more than one day, but one day is often enough to tell you where your time is going.)
- Capture your activities in 30-minute increments. You don’t have to write stuff down every 30 minutes, but try to do it once an hour so your recall is accurate.
- Obviously, if you’re doing something for a few hours (like sleeping) just fill it in when you can.
- You don’t have to be super-detailed, just get the general idea.
- The goal here is simply to show how you spend your time. Try to be as accurate as possible.
- Then, look for patterns and consider what to adjust.
- The time diary will show you where your time is going, and what things you might need to anticipate in your routine.
Step 2 – Analyse Your Activity
Let’s now look at ‘why’ we do what we do. Log each of your highlighted ‘hindering’ activities in the table below, and analyse the reasons you do each one.
Examples could include boredom, avoidance, feeling lonely or sad, tiredness, social pressure, lack of organisation.
Log the activity and the reason for doing it:
- What do you notice about how you spend your time?
- What are you doing?
- Do you notice any patterns?
- How could you plan and prepare more effectively to take advantage of the time you have?
Step 3 – Replace Bad Habits – Daily
What is ONE small improvement you might be willing to make to your time use to help yourself improve your health, fitness,
and / or nutrition habits?
I understand that this might feel like a big ask. If you feel it is too much, consider this – you don’t have to be perfect. Even if you reduce the time spent on hindering habits and spend ‘most’ of your time practicing supportive habits you would likely meet your goal.
Make changes little by little so that they are achievable, and over time they the supportive habits will outweigh the hindering habits, and even replace them.
Step 4 – Practice
For anything to happen you need to take action. You now need to swap your bad habits with good ones, and you need to practice this daily.
If you find this is just too much to take on – that it is too much change at once – just focus on the single most important hindering habit, and work on changing that.
You need to take action on this daily – log your habit swap, and check it off every day.
How To Maintain Healthy Habits – Troubleshooting
Positive And Negative Feedback
If you want to know how to maintain healthy habits, you need to become aware that everything we do has a consequence. When we do an activity or behaviour we are rewarded with positive or negative feedback. This habit feedback loop can be described as follows:
Trigger → Habit → Feedback
Take some time to consider your habits, their triggers and the reward. What are the triggers that cause your negative habits?
With exercise in mind as an example, look at these feedback scenarios.
Dislike exercise → Put feet up and watch TV → Feel good (positive feedback)
Dislike exercise → Get going on a run →Feel tight chested (negative feedback)
Looking at this example it is easy to see why trying to start exercise would be a challenge for this person. The immediate positive reward of watching TV is a far more attractive proposition than the negative feedback of actually exercising.
To be successful we need to take down some of barriers to this or any positive behaviour that you want to make.
Add Positive Motivation
Start by adding positive motivation. Here are some examples for you to be inspired with. Use the right hand column to adapt them to suit your own goals.
- What benefit can you think of that doing X will have on you?
- Find a habit partner
- Make it a competition
- Talk about it with peers
- Track your habit success
- Reward yourself (in a positive way that is congruent with your goal).
- Learn ways to achieve (is your ability to do something is preventing you from doing it – learn how)
Add Negative Motivation
Negative motivation is important if you want to change your behaviour.
By reinforcing the negative outcome of doing your unhelpful behaviours, you will further build leverage or ‘pain’ to avoid.
Take a look at these examples below and see if you can add your own examples in the right hand column.
- Tell people – accountability
- Take away your daily reward
- Create your environment to make it difficult not to achieve – for example remove junk food from your home so you have to brave the weather to get it!
How To Maintain Healthy Habits With Triggers
We have identified negative triggers that are linked with unwanted behaviour. In addition we can use triggers in a positive way to ensure success.
Triggers are key because they create a bond between a trigger and a habit.
Can you link any of the positive habits you want to introduce into your life with a trigger? By doing so you will be much more likely to ‘remind’ yourself to practice your habit and so actually practice it.
|Brush teeth –||Exercise|
|Get home||Food preparation|
Track Your Behaviour
When it comes to maintaining any healthy habit, having a plan and telling yourself that you’ll do something isn’t enough. In order to get results you need to practice very specific habits. Once you have decided which habit to begin with use the table below to track your adherence to it.
Place an X in each day that you achieve it, and an O in each day you don’t manage. Practice until you are over 90% compliant before adding the next habit.
Use this habit tracker to keep track of your progress.
How You Might Expect To Feel
Changing your habits may feel uncomfortable at first, but they will get easier as you learn how to maintain healthy habits.
After all, what is your ‘normal’ today has crept in to become normal over the course of years. Changing your habits is going to feel unnatural – it’ll take a bit of effort.
It is normal to experience this sensation when you are making changes in your life. Take a look at the likely phases you’ll go through below.
|Habit Change Phases|
|Day 1-10||Day 11-20||Day 20-30|
|New habit. This may be uncomfortable. Motivation will be lost over time.||You’ll feel better and understand how you feel a lot better. This stage may still be uncomfortable but a lot better. This is still not routine.||Begin to enjoy the habit and see the benefits. You’ll want to keep it into the future. The habit will begin to feel automatic.|
What triggers, habits and rewards have you noticed in your day?
Take a look at them, decide if they support who you want to be, and if they don’t could you rewrite your day so that you have more supportive habits in your day, and less of the hindering habits.
Thanks for reading! I hope you find this helpful.
I’m Nico, your online personal trainer at One Habit Coaching and creator of the BPFC – my online fitness club for busy professionals.
If you’re interested in making some changes in your life, you feel burned out and want to improve your work – life balance, and you want to look, feel and perform at your best, then you might be interested in my online nutrition and lifestyle coaching programme.
If you’re ready to make some changes in your life, but you’re feeling stuck, I am happy to help.