Rhythms, rituals & healthy habits

One of the hardest things to do, when we’re trying to create healthy habits, is to start them.

The second hardest thing is to stick with them.

I went for a walk along the beach cliff early this morning, as I do most mornings.  There were low grey clouds, and the weather was very wild and windy.  The tide was rolling in, and a few times I got hit with sea spray as the wind carried the water onshore, and the poor seagulls were struggling to make headway.

As I got down to the beach, a woman had just emerged from swimming in the choppy, cold water.   And whereas you’d expect her to be wearing a wetsuit, this woman was in a bikini!  I couldn’t believe it!

But as much as I admired her, I had to ask myself – is she committed or is she crazy?

Of course, I don’t really think she’s crazy, I think she’s amazing to be so determined and gutsy.  And it’s a great example of what I’ve been talking about.

In last week’s blog post, I invited you to think about healthy habits as being lovely rhythms or rituals in your life, instead of tedious or tortuous routines.  Today, we’re expanding on ways to incorporate these rhythms into your life …

But let’s start with the first thing first …. 

I’m going to use exercise as an example.

You’ve decided you want to get fitter and so let’s say that you’ve bought a membership at your local gym (I’m assuming that gyms will reopen and life will go back to normal one day!) or maybe to walk regularly.  

That sounds like a good idea!  Yep, you’re going to exercise 3 times a week – easy peasy.

And then the first week is over and you’ve only done it once.  What happened?  You genuinely meant to walk or workout 3 times this week, so what went wrong with your plan?  It looks simple on paper, but it’s not always easy to stick with when the weather  is bad, or you’re busy, or tired, or life just gets in the way.

How can you stay on track? There’s a really simple and effective way to do this, and it’s called SMART Goal Setting, followed up by doing a simple Cost/Benefit analysis.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic and Timely.

By setting up a SMART Goal you can keep track of whether you’re doing what you planned to do, and you can modify it if you find it’s too hard or too easy even, and you can adjust it so that it really works for you.

So let’s turn that goal of going to the gym or for a walk into a SMART Goal.

To be Specific, you need to decide when you’re going to do it and how long for. And then you put it into your calendar.

So you’ll go Monday mornings 7-8am before work, Thursdays after dinner from 7.30 until 9.00, and Saturdays 2-3pm after you’ve done the weekly shop and washed the dog.

Suppose Mondays and Saturdays are easy enough, but Thursday night is just too hard, you’re tired and usually need to help the kids with homework that night.  So you could change Thursday night to Wednesday instead and see how it goes …

By making your goal so Specific, it’s now Measurable, because you can see when it’s scheduled and whether or not you’ve done it, or if it’s working for you.   And if it needs to be modified, you can adjust it.

A SMART Goal also has to be Attractive. It’s obvious why a goal has to be attractive – if you hate it, you’re pretty unlikely to stick with it for too long.  Whereas if you enjoy it, then you’ll probably look forward to doing it, or at least be much less resistant.

Realistic means it has to be doable for you.  Does it really work with your other commitments and budget and so on?  Because if it’s a good idea but not realistic, then it will be hard to stick with and won’t last long.   

Timely is the last piece.  It means set a timeframe for this goal, so that it doesn’t feel too huge or never-ending.  It’s a way of breaking the goal down into a smaller, easier to tackle chunk of time.  So you might say that you’ll do it until the fundraising walk which is in 3 months so that you’re fit for it.  Or you could decide to do it for a month and take stock at the end of that period. 

You can use SMART Goals for any goal or habit or rhythm you want to bring into you life

So are you ready to get cracking with creating a new healthy behaviour – whether it’s fitness or eating more healthily or a good sleep routine?

Next time, we’ll look at creating a healthy habit from the perspective of a Cost/Benefit analysis, because this teases out the hidden traps that you might not be consciously aware of.

To help you get started, download a free PDF worksheet here

And if you’d benefit from a bit of support and coaching in creating healthy habits or rhythms using mindfulness-based strategies, or get rid of self-sabotaging behaviours by creating supportive beliefs with PSYCH-K, then contact me for an appointment or a free 10 minute chat!

See you next week!