In this post you will learn: what habits are, how to break old and establish new habits, why true behaviour change is identity change, and what you might have been doing wrong all this time.
Why new year’s resolutions rarely work
Every year, millions of people resolve to make positive changes in their lives. We decide to eat healthier, exercise more, and get more sleep. For a time, we work out, attend the daily yoga class, swap vegetables for fries, and make sure we’re tucked in bed by 11:00 p.m.
The result: Life feels great.
But then something happens.
As the weeks go by, these new habits start slipping. We miss a day, then a week, then another. Soon enough, we’re back to square one. Why, we ask ourselves, is it so hard to make lasting changes to our day-to-day lives?
My answer: we simply take on too much at a time. So instead of taking it slow with, say, a new 10-minute fitness/Yoga/meditation routine at home, we start out with an exhausting, daily 2-hour regimen…
The problem with this approach is that we’re upending our lives in the name of change. And once that initial enthusiasm ebbs and our body and mind begin protesting, our motivation plummets and that new gym membership becomes little more than a guilty reminder of failure.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Read on to find out more!
How to break the habit of being the “old you”
Many of you have asked me on Instagram how I was able to leave my “old” self behind and (re)create a “new” version of myself from scratch. You wanted to know how I was able to introduce so many good new habits – like my daily journaling practice – into my life while getting rid of some really bad habits – such as spending my days on autopilot, worrying about everything and constantly doubting my own abilities.
But before I dig any deeper into the material, I want you to know that there is no “one-way-fits-all” solution for breaking the habit of being your (old) self or leaving the habits that are no longer serving you behind. As we are all at different stages of our journey, some tools and methods might be for you, but others might not be. So in this post I’m sharing some steps that I used and still turn to whenever I want to introduce a new, supporting habit into my life.
Before we start, remember that all I can do is give you an outline and some tools to implement on your own. Don’t just read this little piece of advice and then sit with it without taking action. As much as I would love to help you stick to your commitments, you have to do the work yourself. This means that you cannot just sit here in front of your screen reading my words, but you have to take action and actually start the journey on your own!
In case you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read this post on Instagram about taking full responsibility for your life.
What are habits?
Before I will show you how you can change your behaviour, I’d like to give you a little background knowledge into the science of habits.
Habits are, by definition, “repeated behaviours with little to no conscious intention.” In other words, they are the seemingly small (but very powerful) behaviors that we perform automatically, with little or no thought., e.g. having our daily coffee before driving to work, going to bed at the same time, eating at certain times..
As a matter of fact, a minimum of one-third of our waking life is powered by our unconscious, where we operate on auto-pilot, not fully cognisant of what we’re doing while we’re doing it.
That being said, habits play a huge role in our lives. They can both be positive as well as negative, i.e. supporting or harming our wellbeing. What you might not know about habits is that, even though they stem from your unconscious, you can consciously manipulate them. This is good news indeed, especially if you want to form a new, healthy habit.
With a little awareness of what habits actually are and a bit of practice in some straightforward psychological techniques, we can break free of our unhealthy habits and create ones that serve us.
True behaviour change is identity change
If you have been following me on Instagram for a while you know that, the process of behaviour change always starts with awareness. First, you have to become aware of what it is you want. That being said, in order to change our behaviour, we have to become conscious to our automate or subconscious behaviour. By being present and aware of our habit loops, we can next start to shift them.
I use my daily GOOD LIFE journal and the future-self exercise that is included to identify with the version I want to become.
Wether you believe it or not, behaviour that is incongruent with the self will not last. Even though incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit. First, you need to decide the type of person you want to be. Next, you need to start taking aligned action. By that I mean that you change your wording from “I wan’t” to “I am“. Instead of saying: “I have to meditate.” You will say: “I am a meditator.”
The “I am a person who priorities my morning meditation and meal prep” or “I am a person who journals daily” actually eliminates any further decision making process that could have allowed the “I want to” identity to reason myself right out of results.
Once you identify with a certain behaviour, the activity isn’t something you “have to do”, but instead something you ARE! That means that every time you act in a certain way, you vote for the type of person you believe you are. In other words, you really can become what you believe. The best part of beliefs? All beliefs are a choice. And choices can be changed. It’s the meaning that you attache to your thoughts that will define your behavioural outcome.
Breaking habits is hard but you can do it
Self-control is like a muscle; it strengthens through training. Merely trying to break a habit can help.
If you want to make a positive change in your life, you should recognize that change requires patience, as well as confidence that your habits are keeping you on the right trajectory – even and especially if you aren’t seeing immediate results. The key to making big changes in your life doesn’t have to involve major upheaval; you don’t need to revolutionize your behavior or reinvent yourself. Rather, you can make tiny changes to your behavior, which, when repeated time and time again, will become habits that may lead to big results.
If you want to build a new habit, make that habit as easy to adopt as possible.
How? Read on.
Follow these three steps
First, you have to determine your motivation. This means you need an overarching goal to help you overcome any occurring obstacles. To pinpoint your ultimate goal, you can employ the so called WOOP – wish, outcome, obstacle and plan – exercise. Start by writing your wish down, along with the best possible outcome, and the obstacles you are likely to face.
Once you have decided what new (healthy) habit you want to achieve, you need to plan by finding the right implementation intention and act on “if x, then y” decisions. For example, “If I get up in the morning, I will sit in silence, journal, and make my favourite drink, before I look at my phone.”
Positive statements like “ I will sit in silence, journal,..” are far more effective than “I’m not looking on my phone in the morning,” as self-denial reinforces the attraction of something – in this case, your phone.
Finally, remember to repeat your actions, as repetition leads to automation. If you’re unsatisfied with your habit development, try coping planning: Anticipate challenging situations for your new habit, such as a lack of time or being late for a class, and find the right if-then solution. For example, “If I cannot make it to the Yoga studio, I’ll do an at home Yoga practice.” (I love Yoga with Adriene, and I do her classes almost daily! You can find her on YouTube and she has classes for every level and every mood!)
Two scientifically proven ways of Habit Building
1. Habit stacking
There are two ways to adopt a habit and make it stick. The first one is “Habit stacking“. Simply put, you can implement this method when using an old habit to trigger a new habit. A simple example comes from my childhood: Whenever I flushed the toilette (old habit), I was told to wash my hands (new habit). That is, you start to use the momentum of the old habit (going to the toilet) to make the new habit (washing your hands) easy to initiate. Similarly, my new habit of cooking meals at home – instead of getting take-out falafel wraps every second night – became the base to trigger a new habit: actually doing the groceries and cooking the meal myself. So whenever I was standing in the kitchen cooking, this was the cue for me to enjoy something delicious soon after (yes, home-made falafel wraps included!)
The second way to form a new habit is called “Temptation Bundling“.
2. Temptation Bundling
For this method, feel free to fill in the blanks below for your own habit creation.
- After ____ (current habit), I will _____ (habit I need).
- After ____ (habit I need), I will _____ (habit I want).
For me it was to resist the urge to distract myself from my meal while checking my phone or watching TV. So temptation bundling for me meant: 1. After cooking (current habit), I will enjoy my meal without any distraction (habit I need). 2. After enjoying my meal in silence (habit I need), I will check my phone / watch my favourite TV show / read something (habit I want).
Some more tips on Habit building
Make it obvious.
Some personal examples: Fill your fridge with fresh, healthy produce and get rid of highly processed foods that might temp you to let loose of your goal. Set an alarm clock every day for your meal, your exercise or anything else you want to improve. Telling other people about your goal helps as well as you make an obvious public commitment to change.
Make it attractive.
The tool that really kept me going was to create a personal vision board where I collected all the things I wanted to achieve by getting healthy. On this board I pinned a picture of me at a healthy weight, a picture of my family, and pictures of all the things I wanted to achieve by gaining my life back (e.g. travelling, laughing out loud, diving, running, climbing a mountain, comleting my 300 yoga teacher traing, etc.).
It still reminds me on a daily basis to never give up and to keep working towards the things I so deeply wish to do. From time to time I add new images to my board, new things I want to achieve. Think about all the things that you would be able to do when you create this new habit. Feeling happy in your own skin, being able to smile from your eyes without caring to fake it. Whatever it is: Make it attractive!
Make it easy.
Progress with tiny steps and do not push yourself too hard. No one ever developed a lasting habit over night, so make sure you start slowly. Prep your meals on a Sunday afternoon, so it is easy to grab something on the go when you are short of time. There really are no excuses!
Make it satisfying.
Celebrate your smallest victories! Treat yourself from time to time, whenever you have successfully sticked to your new habit. Put on your new jeans when going out, invite a friend for dinner to share a delicious meal. I remember buying new table wear when I got back into food preparation and cooking delicious, wholesome meals just for myself. I started to capture my new habit (cooking for myself alias caring for myself) in pictures with a new camera, which motivated me even more to try out new recipes and meal ideas. Whatever it is, make sure it is satisfying enough to keep you going!
The right wording
Moreover, here are some examples of how tiny differences in wording, can make a huge impact on achieving what you want. Instead of saying: “I have to exercise”, say ” I get to exercise”. Instead of saying “I am trying to quit drinking”, say “I don’t drink alcohol.” For me the goal to be both mentally and physically recovered changed from the initial “I have to become healthy and strong to be a good example for others” to “I want to become healthy and strong, so that I can one day help others”.
Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it.
Remember that if you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.
If you want to know more about habit formation, I highly recommend the book ‘Atomic Habits‘ by James Clear. It describes these two methods and goes into much more detail about habit formation and simple ways to accomplish your goals.
I hope that these little insights into my own journey can help some of you to start taking care of your own life and to become the conscious CREATOR of new, long-lasting habits!
Let’s “walk our talks” together and get the action rolling! 😉
Make a commitment to start today.
Make it obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying!
Feel free to comment something that you are currently working on below or leave a comment over on Instagram.
As always, I am here to listen and support you on your very personal journey to your GOOD LIFE!
Happy habit building! 🧡
Ps: If you are looking for a simple, yet effective, tool to cultivate a more nourishing and loving relationship with yourself, feel free to have a look at the GOOD LIFE Journal that I created for people like me and you 🕊