Healthy Habits – Small Changes, Big Results
We start the New Year with the best intentions. We want to lose weight, reduce stress, get more sleep or eat healthier. But quickly our motivation wanes and the road to our resolution is now littered with speedbumps and potholes.
So now what?
Don’t despair. Those positive changes you seek are still possible. You may just need a new perspective. BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist at Stanford University, advises that if we want to achieve our goals, we should shift our focus from the outcome to the process. Fogg advises we develop a series of small, healthy habits that over time lead to us achieving our goal.
“I encourage you to look at your life. Look at what you want to change. Break it down into tiny behaviors,” said Fogg, in a 2012 speech on YouTube. He added: “You don’t have to amp up motivation. You don’t have to draw that much on will power. All you have to do is plan it out.”
Fogg wasn’t exaggerating when he said, “tiny.” In that same 2012 speech, he provided everyone in the audience with a roll of dental floss and asked them to only floss between two teeth.
“You already know how to floss all your teeth,” Fogg told the audience. “That’s not what you’re lacking. What you’re lacking is the automaticity of flossing. You don’t need to train flossing all your teeth. You need to train making it automatic.”
This applies to more than just flossing. Want to eat healthier? Add an apple to your lunch. Want to exercise? Start with a short walk. And then you build from there.
“Once the daily exercise becomes a habit, you can explore new, more intense forms of exercise,” according to a New York Times story about building healthy habits*.
Pair Your Habits
You might not realize it, but you already have many habits in your life. You make coffee each morning. You brush your teeth twice a day. Use these existing routines to your advantage. Fogg suggests pairing an existing habit with a new healthy habit you want to add to your life.
“Do you tend to flop on the couch after work and turn on the TV? That might be a good time to do a single daily yoga pose,” according to the New York Times story.
To help build healthy habits, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) newsletter recommended in 2018 that you “give yourself a healthy reward when you’ve achieved a small goal or milestone, like a massage or personal time.”
Fogg recommended a small celebration right after you complete a small step you want to repeat in the future. After you finish your walk around the block, for instance, you can do a little dance.
The New York Times story recommends “immediate rewards to help you form the habit.” For example, you could listen to your favorite podcast on your walk.
The advice about rewards varies, but one thing is clear: Rewards help healthy habits become ingrained.
Track Your Progress and Setbacks
It pays to keep a record of when you complete—and don’t complete—your healthy habits. A log can “help you stay focused and catch slip-ups,” according to the NIH newsletter.
The newsletter also noted that a study of people who lost 30 pounds or more—and then kept the weight off for a year or more—revealed that those individuals were likely to track their progress.
Individuals whose conference offers Virgin Pulse® can track healthy habits in Virgin Pulse—and earn Virgin Pulse Points in the process. A paper log or other health tracker programs can also help with tracking.
* You may need an online subscription to the New York Times to read the article.