By Veena Prasad, PhD, MBA, LPC, behavioral health counselor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Office for Graduate Medical Education
At the start of the New Year, many people decide to make some healthy changes by creating new habits. But what does it take to form a new habit?
When you consider incorporating a new habit into your life, it’s important to understand that it takes time. There is no set time frame for creating or breaking a habit. Everyone is different. First, you must be psychologically ready to make a change and then you must be able to connect a new habit you’d like to form to what you value in life.
For example, if you’d like to incorporate exercise into your routine, the value of being healthy can be a powerful starting point that can help you visualize what being fit can lead to in your life. Perhaps you envision yourself having more energy to spend valued time with your loved ones. When you visualize what benefits exercise can add to your life, this becomes an important motivational factor.
To create a new, healthy habit or replace a bad one, consider using the ABCs model of awareness, behavioral change, commitment, celebration and keeping up with the change.
Many of us have habits or routines that we follow on autopilot, without giving it much thought. But when someone or something triggers an awareness that a new habit may be beneficial, that is the first step. For example, if you see something on the news about the benefits of exercise, that thought can spark awareness. You begin to contemplate this and think about ways that you can incorporate exercise into your life, especially if it aligns with your values like feeling healthier and having more energy.
Once you’re aware of what you’d like to accomplish, write down small steps you can take to form this new habit. It’s important to know that the habits we already have are deeply ingrained in us, so creating micro steps to achieve a new habit releases you from the pressure of making sweeping changes to your routine all at once.
The first step can be to place walking shoes near the door. The next day, you can put them on and walk in place for five minutes and perhaps practice the “five-minute rule.” The rule states that we can do anything that is uncomfortable for five consecutive minutes. After the five minutes, if you wish to continue for another five-minute increment, continue on, but this has to be immediately after the first five minutes so that each five-minute increment added is successive. The third night, perhaps you can do a bit more. The following week, maybe go to the gym one day, and the week after that, increase your gym visit to two or three days a week. After three to six months, the routine of going to the gym will become ingrained to the point that you won’t want to miss your gym time.
Committing to make changes.
Committing to making a change is important. This is where having a buddy system helps. Perhaps ask a friend or family member to check in with you to keep you accountable each week. When you have commitment, your innate drive to make a behavior change kicks in.
When you achieve each step, celebrate your success. Even if it’s a small step, having rewards in place to celebrate your achievement helps reinforce your accomplishments.
Keep up with your change.
Once you’ve made the changes, staying the course is important. It doesn’t matter if you have setbacks. We all do. Don’t look at success as black or white, but as an ongoing process. If you missed a week of exercise, that’s okay. Start again the following week, knowing that you’re still ahead of the game having gone to the gym during the past few weeks. The important thing is that you’ve taken steps to make the change and you can continue building on that.
Creating a new habit is within your reach. As you continue to build on your achievements, a new habit can become more ingrained. Remember, it’s not a race. It’s a steady process. So please give yourself permission to go at your own pace.
To learn more about overall wellness, listen to Ripples: A Podcast from The Wellness Home, where co-hosts Adriana Dyurich, PhD, LPC and Veena Prasad, PhD, MBA, LPC invite UT Health San Antonio faculty as guests to share their own experiences, provide tips for overall wellness, and create a safe space to discuss coping with stressors.