Linda Melone
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How to create habits that stick

Let’s face it, you’re either a morning person or you’re not. If the latter, you’re likely a person who hates morning people. The two cannot be in the same room together without some sort of physical altercation. 

I confess, I love mornings. And, worse yet, I’m talking about 4 a.m., early enough to tick off normal morning people.

I’m not always happy about it, but it’s become a habit for a number of reasons:

  1. I get a lot done before 9 a.m.
  2. I like getting to the gym before its busiest time
  3. My cat jumps on my face at exactly 4 a.m.

And honestly, #1 and #2 hardly count. 

But I do love that my morning routine sets me up for the day.

What’s your routine? Maybe you’re unaware of it, but you likely do the same thing — maybe down to the minute — on most days.

Maybe it involves hitting the snooze six times, stumbling into the shower and driving to the nearest Starbucks for a cup of hot java and a muffin. Or, better yet, maybe you get up, stretch, meditate and brew yourself a cup of green tea.

Whatever your routine, healthy or not, you’re on autopilot when you do it. You don’t get out of bed and then decide the order of brushing your teeth, showering, and whatnot.

Fact is, more than 40% of your daily actions require no actual decision making on your part, according to Duke researchers in a 2006 study. You simply do them out of habit.

That’s the goal of lifelong exercise and dietary habits — to them without thinking so there’s no room for debate.

Creating habits you can do for life involves starting small.

Trying to change everything at once sets you up for frustration, injury, and ultimately, failure when you realize you can’t do it all.

According to Charles Duhigg, author of the book, The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do In Life and Business, the secret lies in creating a “keystone habit.”

The cool thing about keystone habits is they go beyond the one, original action.

Like a cartoon snowball gathering size as it picks up more and more snow on its way downhill, one small change influences you to make another healthy change, then another and another, until you’re SUPER HUMAN!

Okay, maybe not quite, but you’ll be far better than you started.

For example, starting an exercise program at some point will likely make you realize it’s time to take a look at your diet.

So you cut out the vending machine snack mid-afternoon and instead have a piece of fruit and yogurt. Then you may realize you need more sleep and start getting to bed earlier. Etc.

In Duhigg’s book, he talks about how one woman quit smoking. Within six months of quitting smoking she began jogging, changed her diet, saved money, started running half and then full marathons, went back to school, bought a house and got engaged.

That’s some serious snowball effect.

Researchers discovered that one set of neurological patterns in the woman’s brain was overridden by new patterns of behavior. Her brain literally changed as she incorporated these new habits.

Her one change, quitting smoking, was the keystone habit that, in essence, reprogrammed her whole life.

You can do it, too.

Here’s how to create your own lifelong, healthy habit once and for all:

1. Pick your keystone habit

If your goal is to get fit, for example, this may be to take a 10 minute walk every evening or morning.

2. Make a list of unexpected benefits

This may include sleeping better, feeling more mentally alert, energized, etc. Keep this list in mind and add to it as you see the spillover benefits of your new habit.

3. Build momentum

Keep in mind it takes an average of 66 days to create a new habit, although this varies anywhere from a couple of weeks to more than a year. Give yourself time and keep chugging along. It gets easier with time, trust me.

4. Track your progress

We tend to underestimate how far we’ve come, especially when we make small changes. It can be easy to toss it all aside when you don’t see massive results. I suggest keeping some sort of diary or calendar where you can readily see how much you’ve done. Gold stars sound like pre-school stuff, but it works just as well with adults.

5. Focus on the journey, not the results

This is easier said than done, but extremely necessary. Every person I’ve ever talked to who’s lost a large amount of weight (100+ lbs) tells me they took it a day at a time. Focus on TODAY. When you go for your walk, smell the fresh air, focus on your steps, think of how good it feels to be alive, for cripe’s sake! The results WILL happen and eventually become part of what you do without thinking about it.

6. Add to your keystone habit

Once you’ve established a routine, add another action. Now that you’re in the habit of walking nearly every day, try adding a salad to your lunch meal, adding a couple days of weight training, etc. Keep going and “stacking” these habits until they become part of that 40% of the automatic rituals you do without thinking.

Do YOU have a habit you do regularly that started this way? Or would you like to start one? Let me know in the comments section below…

Other posts you may enjoy:

How to stay on track when it seems totally impossible

ONE thing no one tells you about getting in shape

3 Surprising reasons for weight gain after 50 (no one tells you)

Your Ageless Body Coach,

About the Author Linda Melone

Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.

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Leave a Comment:

Stacey says

I enjoyed reading how to create habits that stick.

    Linda Melone says

    Thanks, Stacey! 🙂

Mil Demonios says

I enjoyed reading how to create habits that stick.

Gabrielle Walter says

Thank you for sharing creating habits that stick. I have been struggling for months. I used to excecise and lift weights at home 4 days a week. Then I got injured, family stuff came up, personal stuff came up. It’s now been almost 6 months we’re I have become a coach potato. I also celebrated ( not really, I got a little depressed and scared) in August my 59th Birthday yikes! We’re did the time go!!! Any way I can’t seem to get started to move again
I have always been an active person and now I feel, if I’m being totally honest, unable to get out if this funk. Any suggestions?

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