The Self-Care Series: Habit-Change Strategies that Work
Welcome back to The Self-Care Series! Our goal for this series is to provide you with simple, practical, and effective strategies that will help sustain the energy and passion you feel for your work. This month we’ll look at simple strategies that will help you make a long-term habit change. Relying on motivation and willpower is the wrong strategy. Find out how to be successful with your habits – even when you have LOW motivation to do so!
Why Willpower Doesn’t Work
When you are ready to make a change, you’re in a period of high motivation. It’s the perfect time for making plans, putting systems in place to support you, and for making your intentions known to a friend or accountability partner. For example, if you’re highly motivated to get more exercise, you’ll schedule workouts in your calendar, join a gym, and enlist a buddy to meet you there.
All of these actions will serve you well when you enter the inevitable periods of low motivation, when the practice of your new habit feels less exciting, HARD, or boring. Many people blame lack of willpower and drop their new habit. But the truth is, willpower doesn’t work. It’s a finite resource. Great when you have it, but once it’s used up, you need other strategies to call on.
That’s why the plans and structure you put in place when you were fired up to change are essential to keeping your habit going for the long-term.
Habit-Change Strategies that Work
You’ve just been introduced to one of the most important strategies that will help you be successful in creating healthy habits: Use your high motivation to create structure that will see you through the times when your willpower resources are used up and your motivation is low. We’ll break that strategy down into three tactics you can start using today.
Make a plan.
A habit plan is specific: what you want to create, why you want it, and how you will keep track of it. You may want to eat healthier food, get better rest, or stop binge watching Netflix. Great, but be specific: I want to eat green vegetables every day; get seven hours of sleep each night; or watch one episode at a time.
Next, ask yourself, why. Do you want to have more energy? Keep up with your workload or family life? Live longer? State your why in a short, simple phrase (e.g. be present for my kids). This statement will be your anchor. Return to it when you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated.
Finally, plan how you will track your habit. Depending on your specific habit, you might keep a journal, weigh yourself once a week, or use a fitness tracker. Know this: sticker charts are not just for kids! It worked for Jerry Seinfeld and it can work for you too.
Create a system.
Systems make it easy for you to do your habit. Schedule workouts in your calendar and put your gym bag by the door. Join a carpool to create some extra time a couple days a week. Use an app like Mealtime to make it easier to make a weekly menu of healthy meals.
Create environments that support your habit. If you’re trying to cut down on sweets, remove them from your office, purse, and pantry. If you’re prone to pick up sweets at the grocery, try a “click and collect” service that lets you select your groceries online and pick them up in the store parking lot so you won’t be tempted to cruise the candy aisle.
Write down your why statement and post it where you will see frequently. Adding support (like scheduling your habit or posting your why) and taking away temptations will set yourself up for success, especially when you are overwhelmed, tired, or distracted.
Dr. Robert Cialdini is an expert on accountability. His work has shown the power of peer influence (like accountability partners) to motivate behavior. A study at Dominican University found that seventy percent of study participants who used accountability partners achieved their goals or made significant progress. No matter who you are, an accountability partnership can work for you. If you want to make your new habit stick, check in regularly with an accountability partner.
Let go of the idea that you need willpower and heaps of motivation to make a habit change. You can use your motivation to set up the plans, systems, and accountability you need to see you through the ups and the downs (especially the downs).
What new habit do you want to create in your life? Why is it important to you?
About the Author
Kirstin Pinit teaches the art of self-care through creative, engaging, and practical habit-change programs. She is a certified coach and yoga teacher and consults with cities, communities, companies, and groups on behavior-change programs and strategies. Learn more about her work at www.kirstinpinit.com.