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How to Build a New Habit

Think small and track your progress

I admit it. Whenever I have wanted to create something new in my life, I am generally met with good results. I think it’s because I’m a hard worker and a naturally good problem solver. I tend to quickly cut through “stuff,” get to the core of an issue, and promptly take action. It’s a great approach, and it works. Except when it doesn’t work.

And, for me, it has generally not worked in the area of health and wellness.

As a mom, having a business of my own and working from home works perfectly for me from a lifestyle perspective, but there is a drawback. Most of the work I do is performed at a laptop or a microphone, or in front of a video camera … mostly while I am seated, and often while I am alone.

A few months of living like that while pushing out a big project is one thing, but several years of it is not so good. And I have been doing it for several years.

I recently decided to build and master some new habits that would allow me to continue doing he work I love while also boosting my health and wellness. I’ve decided to do this many times previously, but without success.

I have a new strategy now, and it’s working, so I want to share it with you.

1. Think Small

According to BJ Fogg, Director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, taking “baby steps” is the best way to change your behavior. I have failed in the past by thinking big and biting off more than I could chew. For example, after feeling especially strong and focused one day, I’d pile on a list of 7 or 8 new habits, start them all at once, and then fail at every single one.

I recently embraced a different approach. Last summer, almost on a whim, I asked myself what would happen if I added one single new healthy habit every month for the rest of my life? It sounded doable, so I gave it a try.

Instead of thinking big, I began to think small.

Instead of trying to change huge habits that are especially challenging, or a bunch of habits at once, think small. And it’s working.

In my case, I wanted to exercise more. I also wanted to run a 5K within a month. But I know from past experience that tackling such a big goal after not exercising regularly for an extended period of time would set me up for failure, or injury, or both.

So, instead of using the “think big” approach that has never worked, I decided that I would probably enjoy better results in the long run by thinking smaller. I’d have to wait a little longer for results, but if I could train myself to be happy with tiny daily wins, I would eventually achieve all of my health related goals.

I decided to focus on one single habit for the month of September: close my Apple Watch exercise ring by participating in 30 minutes of brisk exercise every day.

To change a habit, don't think big. Think small. #habits Click To Tweet

I didn’t worry about what I ate or drank. I didn’t stress out over how far I walked or ran on a given day. I didn’t care what exercise I did. I didn’t care if I worked out in the morning or at night. I could do it all at once, or I could do it in 5-minutes increments throughout the day. My only goal was to close that Apple Watch exercise ring every day. Even if I ate a gallon of ice cream one day (which I did not), as long as I closed the green ring, I was victorious.

I started on September 3. Here are my results for September and October.

The exercise ring is the green ring in between the pink and blue rings. I met my goal every day they that green ring is completely closed. Notice that I didn’t miss a day in September, and only missed two days in October!

As a side note, when I began to close my green exercise ring, the other two rings also closed without me having to do anything else! (The pink ring closes when a minimum number of daily active calories are burned. The blue ring closes when you are standing up for at least one minute during 12 different hours in the day.)

It was so exciting to see that I could aim for one goal, and achieve three!

Select a single habit that challenges you slightly, and that you feel you can be successful at. The idea is to challenge yourself without stressing yourself out so much that you set yourself up for failure.

An early victory creating a small habit will build the confidence muscles you need to tackle more challenging habits down the road.

2. Be simple and specific

You’ll never be successful if your goal is general. A general goal is impossible to aim for, and its vagueness tends to let you off the hook.

I would have never made it this far if my goal had been to “exercise more,” or “write down what I eat every day.” Instead, my goal for September was to close my Apple Watch ring, which closes when I have participated in 30 minutes of activity at or above a brisk walk.

If the ring was closed by midnight on any given day, I had met my goal. If it was still open, I had not met my goal. Simple and easy. No way to hide the evidence. No way to fudge the results.

My goal for October was to log every single morsel of food I ate using the LoseIt! app.

At the end of each day, I shared with my support team (more on that next) exactly what I had done. I included screen shots like this for added tangible proof and accountability.

3. Use time blocking

You will be more successful if you set a start date and block out a specific period of time to focus intentionally on a single habit. The beginning of a month works well as a start date, especially if you give yourself enough advance notice to prepare by adjusting your mindset. I didn’t really “do” anything differently before I started, but I did begin to “think” differently.

Since the time it takes to actually build a habit varies from person to person, and since I tend to fail if I try to add too many new habits at once, I decided to block out one month to focus intentionally on building a single new habit.

If I am successful adding that habit, I will add a new habit the following month. If it has not, I continue at the status quo. I do not seek to add a new habit until the previously added habit has been solidified.

4. Establish a supportive community

Surrounding yourself with a community of like-minded and supportive people with goals that are similar to yours will definitely boost your results. To boost mine, I host a monthly Healthy Habits community on Facebook.

Each month, I open a new group where everyone is challenged to add one single healthy habit. At the end of 12 months, we will have transformed our lives with a dozen or so new health-focused habits.

Since we archive each group at the end of each month, we all have a running record of our progress, including incremental wins and challenges along the way. Not only are we being successful, but the relationships we are establishing are priceless.

Some of the habits people are adding for the November Healthy Habits Challenge include more and better sleep, increased exercise, directing an act of kindness to themselves each day, dead weight lifting, increased water intake, daily steps, 45 minutes of daily exercise, and calories eaten.

When you see other people doing the “hard things,” it is easier for you to do them yourself. If you’d like to join us, click here.

5. Track your progress

One thing that definitely keeps me going is tracking my progress using the HabitShare app. As you can see below, the green circles are days I met my goal. I use other tracking systems but I love this one because I love looking at all those green circles as tangible evidence of my success.

Summary

This is still new for me, but it’s working so well after just two months, and I feel so positive about the community we have created, that I wanted to share it with you. If you would like to build some new habits, I invite you to join us in our private Facebook community.

I’m going to update this blog monthly with my progress. If you’d like to come along, you are invited to join us here.

Some habits are easier than others, and everyone is different, so results always vary.

Building new habits is a great way to challenge yourself.

By adding one habit at a time, in a time block, in community, and using tracking tools, you maximize your chances of success. You also make the process of improving yourself more fun, and let’s face it … we could all use a little more fun!

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Comments

  1. Michelle says

    So inspiring! What a brilliant idea. Start small and finish big- love it. So many times I too added so many things at once I got “stunned”. Great ideas start small and grow. Incremental challenges seem much more doable than trying to over challenge ourselves before we have a chance to try and tweak. Thank you for the insightful article.

    • Donna Maria says

      Thanks Michelle, glad you enjoyed it! I do not like being “stunned,” I’m totally a baby steps girl. Thanks for reading!

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