"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit." -Aristotle
I think we can all agree that when we decide to make a change, we can be super enthusiastic and committed, but after a few weeks or even days, the excitement fades, making it more difficult to stay on track. Our initial excitement has turned to actual work and hard work generally makes us feel overwhelmed. So, we return to our old ways, leaving us feeling disappointed.
But, let me release the pressure, because the process of creating healthy, lasting habits is tough. Really tough. However, this isn't due to your lack of "will power", it's due to the chemical process that must take place within the brain in order to manifest these new habits and patterns.
Habits are found in an area of your brain called the basal ganglia. This area is responsible for motor learning, executive functions and behaviors, and emotions (Lanciego).
The more you repeat an action or behavior, good or bad, the more it's wired and strengthened in your brain. This incredible quality of our brain is referred to as neuroplasticity (Oppong).
What's great about this is that we can literally rewire and introduce new behaviors, it just requires a calculated strategy involving planning, repeated action and reward.
Check out these 5 science-based strategies that will have you building new habits in no time!
Make It Easy: You can expect to go from 0-100 in a day, so the best way to successfully reach your goals and develop new habits is to smart small. In order to make a new practice stick, you must make it small enough that its unfailingly consistent from the very beginning (Oppong). For example, if you have a goal of working out 5 days a week, you might commit to moving your body for 10 minutes each day. Over time, you will not only increase your strength, but also the habit of exercising, which will automatically begin to increase your volume.
Encourage Your New Way: Create an environment that supports your desired behaviors! Recruit friends to join you, share your goals with your spouse, make a public pledge, or buy the items you might need and place them where you can see them. This creates both accountability and momentum that will make it difficult for you to break!
Piggy-back new behaviors: Utilizing current behaviors as a way to signal new behaviors is a great way to build a new link in the chain! For example, if you want to start flossing, you should aim to floss immediately after brushing your teeth, because the new behavior supersedes an existing behavior.
Eliminate Options: When you minimize your options, you significantly decrease the chances of you having one of those "Ah F&%$ it" moments. If your goal is to eat healthier, don't allow junk food in your home. When your only option is healthy snacks and meals, chances are, you will eat healthier instead of allowing yourself to starve!
Establish Rewards: Identifying immediate, short term, and long term rewards is essential for embedding a new habit because it helps to incentivise and motivate us to do it (Hollingworth). Some short term rewards might be a glass of wine or a meal at your favorite restaurant at the end of the week, while others will be more specific to the behavior. For example, incorporating more plant foods in to your diet might not yield an immediate reward, but over time, you may notice you sleep better, lose weight, and are sick less often. This type of short/long term reward will promote the continuation of your behaviors.