Originally published January 6th, 2019
It’s 2020! How to Create Healthier Habits
With the new year upon us, it is culturally ingrained in our society that this is the time to think about what we want to do differently in our life for the upcoming year. Common resolutions may be to exercise more, eat better, quit smoking, drink less alcohol, meditate, or start a gratitude journal. Thinking of what we want to change is the easy part; successfully implementing these changes is where we often fail. How can we better bridge-the-gap between our desired resolutions and our actual behaviour?
According to BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University and the Tiny Habits Academy, the best way to make permanent changes in our daily living is to make very, very small changes at any particular time. He believes behaviour change is systematic and not overly complicated or difficult if you do it in bite size pieces. Fogg shares an example of how he has built a habit of performing up to 70 push-ups every day. First, he says you need to feel motivated to change, i.e. “I want to get stronger at push-ups.” Secondly, you need to have the ability to act upon your desired change (for Fogg, he needed to be able to perform even one push-up), and, finally, you need a “trigger.”
Find your Trigger
A trigger is something that cues you that it is time to perform the push-up now (or whatever action you have chosen – it could be to floss one tooth or drink one sip of water, etc.!). He uses going to the washroom as his trigger. At the beginning, every time he went to the bathroom he completed 2 push-ups. Gradually, he progressed to performing 5, 8, and up to 12 push-ups, which added up to 50-70 push-ups every day! (Note: If you want to learn how to do a push-up, check out our blog on push-ups! https://breathe-fitness.ca/do-a-push-up/). Lastly, Fogg emphasizes that it is important to celebrate after each small victory with some form of positive feedback – saying “I’m awesome” or “bingo” as a way to reaffirm your behaviour and to promote repeating this behaviour over time.
Take “Baby Steps” – – > In the Right Direction
When you want to make a lifestyle change for better health or improved fitness, whether it is diet-based or exercise-focused, people often feel overwhelmed by the changes they want to implement which often results in them not making any changes at all. In these situations, I often recommend to people to take “baby steps” in the right direction. When considering making any level of change, which could be as small as drinking half a glass of water before breakfast or taking a supplement once a day, I first ask them to rate how easy or difficult they perceive this change would be. I always suggest people should only implement changes that they perceive to be rated 9 or 10 on the scale, where 1 is viewed as ‘highly difficult’ and 10 being ‘super easy’. A new behaviour that is perceived to be a 9 or ‘very easy’ or a 10 of ‘super easy’ is much more likely to stick than a behaviour ranked lower. Once you achieve one small success (no matter how small!) you are more likely to build on that positive momentum and continue making small steps in the right direction. If it is a 9 or 10 on the scale, and the behaviour is maintained for days then weeks, it will become more of a habit that will have long-term lasting power.
Tiny Habit Change – – > Sizeable Results
Suppose you want to lose 5 lbs. On a scale of 1 to 10, how easy would you rate making the change from drinking whole milk with your daily latte to 1% milk instead? For ease of math, let’s round it off to be 150 calories for 250 ml of whole milk compared to 100 calories for 1%. Using 1% milk versus whole milk means you will be drinking 50 calories less per day, which adds up to 350 calories less per week. Now, to lose one pound of fat you need to have a calorie deficit of approximately 3500 calories; therefore, within 10 weeks you could lose 1 lb of fat by simply changing the type of milk (not reducing the volume or negating yourself the pleasure of your daily coffee) you drink! And, over the course of the year you could lose up to 5 lbs!
Making a Change NOW -/-> Why Wait for Tomorrow?
Whether we have good intentions to make a fresh start in the New Year and do not follow through or we are busy with life and feel it is “not a good time” to make a change to our lifestyle, the best time to make a change is NOW. There is never going to be an ideal time to start. January 01st is an arbitrary date humans decided would mark the New Year, but we could have chosen any day. So, whether it is a Tuesday in March or Sunday in July ,when you have the slightest inclination to make a change for the better – do it! You are more likely to be successful if you start when you feel motivated rather than waiting for a specific day or “optimal” time in your life.
The Sum is Greater Than the Parts
Remember, do not bite off more than you can chew. Making very small, incremental changes over time can really add up to make a significant impact. This allows you to experience small successes that will help you stay encouraged to continue making progress by building upon each small change that eventually adds up to a large change for the better. Fogg started off with only doing maybe 10 push-ups a day but built it up to 70 – 70 push-ups per day is equal to 25 550 push-ups a year!