It can feel overwhelming sometimes.
You’ve been living your life, maybe raising kids, running your own business or showing up at someone else’s business.
You find you have less and less time to do the important things in life. Like exercise daily, eat right, sleep enough, and hydrate all day.
Maybe you’re the type of person who already takes pretty good care of yourself, but have gotten away from it recently because of all the other demands of life.
Or maybe you’re the type of person who has “tried” to “get healthy”... But you struggle to be consistent and stay committed.
So you set big goals for yourself. “I’ll run 10 miles a week.” “I’ll only eat vegetables with a little protein and fruit.” “I’ll get to bed at 9:30 every night.” “I’ll drink 10 glasses of water every day.”
Sure, those are important to your health, but it’s challenging to make those sorts of big changes all at once.
It’s actually a real thing!
Professor BJ Fogg, from Stanford University, created a program called “Tiny Habits” that helps people make big changes over time, by first making really tiny changes.
Here’s an example: Your dentist has been berating you because you don’t floss (lots of people don’t floss!). But you like your gums the way they are - not, you know, diseased - and you decide, “I simply have to floss every day, even though it’s a pain in the neck.”
Professor BJ says you should first decide to floss just ONE TOOTH. Can you handle that? No?
OK, then start by taking the floss out of the drawer.
Seriously. If that’s the first step in the process of flossing all your teeth, just start by taking the floss out of the drawer. Then celebrate! “Yipee! I took the floss out of the drawer! I’m on my way to healthy gums for life!” :-)
Usually, that’s the hardest part of making change: just STARTING the process. Getting going. Overcoming the inertia of not doing anything.
Once you get going, most of the time, it’s like you just climbed to the crest of a challenging hill, and then the ball starts rolling down the hill; the rest of the process becomes easier.
You can actually stop here, if that’s as much as you can handle today. You accomplished the one small step you set out to accomplish in order to begin this new, bigger habit.
And that brings us to the next step: actually turning this task or action into a habit. Habits are things we do unconsciously, without thinking about it.
How many habits do you have each day? Probably hundreds. All those things you do without much - or any - thought, are habits. Things like which way you turn when you get out of bed. The way you stroke your hair or your beard. Biting your nails. Brushing your teeth first thing in the morning. You get the idea. All those things you do without even thinking about them.
So the key to starting a NEW, positive habit, is to attach it to something you already do.
Professor BJ says he wanted to start doing pushups. So he decided he would do ONE pushup every time he went to the bathroom. That meant he was doing 5 to 7 a day.
After a couple of days, he added one pushup each time, which doubled his total. Eventually he was doing a lot of pushups every day!
What about getting ready to go out for an early morning run? You can attach one small, new action to something you already do.
For instance, when you brush your teeth at night, then set out your clothes for the morning run so they are all ready for you. If that’s as far as you get the first day, no problem. When you’re ready, figure out what would be the next step.
Now let’s say you’ve put your running clothes out 2 or 3 nights in a row. You’re feeling a little sheepish about not actually going running.
So the next morning when your alarm comes on, you get yourself out of bed and go to the bathroom. Immediately after using the toilet - let’s make that your “trigger” - you put your running clothes on. That’s it. That’s all you have to do today, if that’s all you want to do.
Celebrate! Yipee! You put on running clothes! Give yourself a high five in the mirror! (Seriously. But that’s a topic for another day.)
You get the idea. Next steps would then include: going outside and standing on the sidewalk… walking out to the road… walking down the road… jogging down the road… jogging down to the tree a block away… etc.
You see? Once you get started on the bigger process, it’s much easier just to keep going.
Once each new action becomes automatic, make it the trigger for the next action.
OK, let’s review.
- Pick a new, healthy habit you want to start including in your life.
- Break it down into the absolute tiniest steps you can imagine, if doing that new habit seems overwhelming.
- Attach the very first tiny step to something you already do anyway. Do it for a few days, celebrating and congratulating yourself each time you accomplish it
- When you feel ready, do the next tiny step.
- Rinse. Repeat.
- Don’t forget to celebrate each of your tiny wins! Your brain thrives on those good feelings. You don’t have to wait for other people to make you feel good; do it for yourself!
If you have any questions about what your next healthy habit is going to be or want to chat with me about whatever other habit you’re already working on, and maybe you need a little support.
Go ahead and reach out to me, I’m happy to help.
-Robin Mungall NSCA CPT