With desire, intention and time, we can make changes to our behaviour by being aware of and using the science of habits. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in reality things rarely work as perfectly as in theory. Overhauling your habits comes with some common pitfalls and frustrations, like losing faith and motivation, feeling overwhelmed and simply giving up.
There are some “simple” strategies, however, that can help you to pre-empt and overcome those challenges. We look at them below.
But before we start, imagine that you
want to begin drinking hot lemon water every morning, as a new habit, to help you feel relaxed and improve your digestive system.
Set Intentions and Goals
Before you even start, think carefully of what you’d like to achieve in three or six months. With an end goal in mind (drinking hot lemon water every morning) you can plan how to build up that new habit and hold yourself accountable over time.
One Goal at a Time
Trying to juggle several changes all at the same time will make you feel overwhelmed, and it is unlikely that you will succeed. Choose one behaviour to alter at a time and only move on once it has become a habit. In our case, begin by finding five minutes in the morning to drink a glass of water.
Break into Manageable Pieces
Have an end goal, but build up to it slowly. Drink a glass of water once you wake up. If this is too much, break it down and begin by pouring your glass of water and aiming for 4-5 sips before you leave for work. Once that habit is established, you can build on it by aiming to drink the whole glass.
Find an Anchor
Time your new habit to coincide with something that you already do regularly, like making your breakfast. Or simply set a reminder on your phone to work as an anchor, or a trigger, to drink your glass of water. Eventually, you won’t need those reminders anymore.
Now, that you’ve identified a suitable trigger (making breakfast) for your new behaviour, choose something small to change, like pouring a glass of water and placing it on the table – something that won’t feel like too much of an effort, but could be the first step towards your goal. And then build upon it.
Increase Habits Slowly
Begin by changing one thing at a time, like placing glass of water on the table and taking at least few sips from it. Stick with it for at least 21 days (or 90 to be sure). Then add more. For example, drink full glass or add some hot water from the kettle into it. Once this new behaviour is a habit, add lemon, until, eventually, you build up to a cup of hot lemon water.
Be Patient and Plan to Fail
You won’t see results overnight. Some research says it can take up to 90 days to form a new habit. Give yourself time and be prepared that you won’t always stick to the plan. You will forget or maybe miss lemons off your shopping list. Just make sure that you don’t use it as an excuse to give up. And even if you do at some point, just start again.
Find What Works for You
It is important that you have got the right motivation, chosen the correct techniques and identified the pace and routine that works for you. One size doesn’t fit all, so make sure that you reflect on your progress regularly and adjust as necessary.
If you need additional motivation other than how good you feel beginning the day with a zesty hot liquid, give yourself a treat or reward. Do this either every time you do what you planned or if you consistently stick to it over a specific length of time.
Give It a Boost
Begin your journey towards the change by going to a retreat, boot camp or by joining a challenge. This short term focused boost will give you a positive start and will keep you going for some time.
Create a Supportive Environment
Make sure that you are supported on your journey. Do it with a friend, ask someone to regularly check in and hold you accountable or join a community. Either way, create a supportive environment to help you succeed.