Habits. It’s an endless journey that takes us down the road of breaking bad habits then cultivating new rhythms. As an integrative health-wellness coach, clients and I devote time to habit-breaking and habit-building. If you are combating a chronic disease(s), learn how to create health-wellness habits that support your health and resilience.
I am in the midst of reforming a habit of my own: nail-biting or clinically known as Onychophagia. Yes, health coaches need coaching, therapists need therapy, doctors need healing, and pastors need prayer. Indeed, we all need help from time to time.
In my experience as a coach, overcoming former food habits poses the most obstacles for people. However, you can alter and recycle deeply ingrained negative food habits into positive ones with the right process.
Basically, transformation happens through mindset change in partnership with planning.
How Change is Possible
The brain allows behavior to change. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to grow, adapt, and change. Habit change is the process of rewiring neural pathways to develop new mindsets and behaviors.
Neuroplasticity allows your brain to enact a new health-wellness goal over time. Now, that is a gift—one in which we ought to express gratitude to God for designing our brain to change.
Define exactly which habit you want to change
It helps to journal about these questions about desired change:
- What is the issue or desired change?
- Is the issue a priority now?
- How important is this change now?
- What are the implications if you do nothing?
Once you define exactly what you want to change, say it out loud in a kind voice to yourself. Your brain will remember—mental rehearsal, a constant reminder of your expected change.
Write It Down
Pick one habit you want to cultivate and write it down. Brian Tracy, author and motivational speaker affirms that “when you write down a goal, you crystallize it and give it tangible form.”
Create Healthy Habits Using the SMART Goal Technique
Once you reflect and answer your desired change questions, you are ready to set a goal. Presumably, you wrote down the new habit you want to cultivate. Now, it’s time to design a SMART goal technique.
You form new habits, rhythms, or practices by creating specific, manageable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive.
Remember, small steps lead to long-term change.
Extraordinary results often begin with small changes. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that it is easy to “underestimate the value of making small improvements daily.
Prepare for the Obstacles and Challenges
Whenever I help a client foster a health-wellness habit, we always consider the potential obstacles that could prevent her from achieving a goal. An unexpected barrier may derail forward-moving momentum in your health-wellness progress.
If you are writing a goal to walk three times a week for 45-minutes, you need to think about obstacles. Think about what you are up against or what may try to block your path. Weather? Work?
Suppose a deadline at work requires more office time, and it interferes with your allotted time for exercise. Rather than break your commitment to your goal, modify the goal.
During this hectic work time, walk 30-minutes rather than 45. By doing this, you alter the goal rather than skip it altogether.
Research indicates that it can take up to 180 days to break an old habit and foster a new one. Along the way, you will encounter triggers that tempt you to revert to your former habit.
Enlist the support of family, friends, co-workers in the formation of a new habit. As you progress on your habit-changing journey, they can offer awareness and feedback about your progress which helps you remain engaged.
Habit changing also offers the perfect time to work with a coach. Health coaches collaborate with clients to help them take the next step toward a health-wellness goal.
Suppose your primary care physician sternly suggested that you need to do something about your cholesterol. Of course, his first suggestion is to change your diet, but you’ve never been really great at following an eating plan.
From his tone, you realize you must do something. So, half-heartedly, you agree to try a healthier way of eating—not sure how it’s going to work.
You arrive at the grocery store pushing your cart numbly through the produce section, dreaming of popping Junior Mints into your mouth rather than blueberries.
At this point, you could send a code red text to someone from your support circle or your coach for some encouragement.
Find a Reward
What’s not to love about a reward? Progress in habit change deserves a quick celebration. In addition, a small, intrinsic reward reinforces your motivation and confidence.
Lately, when I set a business goal and reach that goal, I reward myself with something tangible like a new tube of my favorite peony pink lipstick.
Once you write your SMART goal based on the habit you want to foster, decide how you want to measure and track your progress. The practice of tracking evokes awareness of the process of change. A habit tracker, for example, allows you to see your progress in black and white.
On the other hand, some people prefer using health-wellness apps as tools to track progress and goals. Either way, structures serve as physical reminders of your goals. For example, keeping it simple, you can scribble a reminder to write for 30 minutes a day on a colorful Post It™ and stick it someplace prominent.
Practice Kindness to Yourself
It could take up to 180 days to eradicate an old habit and replace it with a new one. Along the way, you will encounter pitfalls, obstacles, and challenges. Recycle those times into experiences rather than calling them failures.
Before you know it, you will begin to recognize triggers and manage to either replace them or avoid them. You are on a journey, not a marathon. It takes practice, practice, and more practice.
Kristen Neff reminds us to practice self-compassion rather than lashing heaps of self-criticism.