We all know that we should eat healthily, exercise regularly, drink lots of water, practice mindfulness, reduce our screen time, floss regularly, and wear sunscreen, and yet we often stop ourselves from embracing all of these healthful habits in our daily lives.
Habits are rarely changed by simply making a decision to change. Transforming our habits into healthier ones requires a framework of self-understanding and accountability to effect change.
You Need to Buy-In
The first thing that has to happen for you to make a change is for you to see the reason why your current habit isn’t sustainable, and see the vision of what your life would be like without it. It’s not enough to simply want to lose weight, you need to see how your diet is negatively impacting your life now or into the future.
You Need Self-Awareness
Everyone approaches change differently. It’s unfair to yourself to expect your change to look like someone else’s. Author and researcher Gretchen Rubin has written about her theory that most people fall into one of four tendencies in regards to how they respond to expectations and form habits: obliger, upholder, questioner, and rebel.
For example, I’m a questioner, which means that I uphold internal expectations and resist external expectations. Understanding that has helped me to realize that unless I truly want to workout daily, having a workout buddy will not motivate me to get to the gym the way it might my best friend.
You Need a Guide
If you’re making a significant change to a habit you’ve had for a long time, you may not fully know how to make the change you’re seeking. My husband and I recently realized this in our own lives in the area of personal finance: in order to achieve the goals we had for ourselves, we needed a trusted expert to bring an objective point of view and to give us direction.
Seeking a guide can feel incredibly vulnerable because it requires admitting that you are not awesome at the thing you’re seeking help to change. If you’ve selected the right guide, though, they will meet you with empathy and authority, and they will provide the keys you need to be successful on your journey.
You Need a Clear Plan
A clear plan of action gives you something to hold onto as you resist the temptation to fall back into your old ways. Knowing what steps you need to take to make the change you seek and having a clear vision of where you’re heading gives you concrete guidelines on what you can and cannot do as you transition away from your old life to your new one. Nuance and gray area is not your friend when forming a new habit, though it might be more comfortable for you down the road. If you don’t know exactly what to do to get from point A to point B, work with your guide on clarifying the plan.
You Need Daily Accountability
We’re all subject to temptation, and there’s a reason our old habits took root: there is something appealing or pleasurable about the unhealthy or unsustainable thing we’ve been doing. Without daily accountability, on the hard days, it can be easy to cheat and deceive ourselves with the lie that “one time won’t hurt.”
Friends and family willing to check in on you each day can be effective for people who respond well to external expectations, and habit tracker apps and calendars work well for people who are more responsive to internal expectations. Being able to daily say to yourself or someone else, “Yes! I did the thing I said I would!” is the key.
You Need A Sense of Achievement
Along the way and at the end of your journey, you need to see that it’s working. There’s a reason that people love to play games - it feels amazing to win! Celebrating and marking the small and large victories is incredibly important to persevering with the change you seek, and in your belief that you’re able to change other things in your life.