People often comment on how disciplined I am in my eating or workouts or taking care of myself. They often say that they couldn’t do it and that I must have a lot of willpower. I don’t see willpower as being the driving force but my desire for a certain outcome (health) that I’ve created routines around. Routines are necessary because we are creatures of habit. That habit can help us (walking dogs every day) or hurt us (come home from work and flop on couch for 5 hours). Once you create your routine it takes, on average, 66 days to make that habit stick. That’s more than 2 months.
In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Phillippa Lally who is a health psychology researcher at University College London, and her research team decided to figure out just how long it actually takes to form a habit. The study examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit for the 12 weeks and reported each day on whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic the behavior felt.
Some people chose simple habits like “drinking a bottle of water with lunch.” Others chose more difficult tasks like “running for 15 minutes before dinner.” At the end of the 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the data to determine how long it took each person to go from starting a new behavior to automatically doing it.
They found that, on average, it takes 66 days for a behavior to become automatic. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.
So how do you get started? I’ll tell you what works for me.
First I find out why I want to do the routine. Let’s take my morning routines. I do these because I want to get my energy up in the morning and work out the kinks that sleeping puts in my body. Also getting my walking done in the morning gives me a sense of accomplishment. Taking my vitamins helps to heal my body. Health is my ultimate goal.
So here are my routines:
First I wake up at 5:00 am. Ok I didn’t really pick this routine, it picked me. My husband has to wake up early for work so he’s in bed by 8:15-8:30. I found that if I didn’t go to bed with him I was not getting enough sleep because I’d get woken up by his alarm clock at 3:30 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I began going to sleep with him and even if I got woken up I’d fall back to sleep for a little bit and 5:00 became my wake up time. So now my body is in the routine of waking up by 5:00 am.
Next routine is taking my morning vitamins that have to be taken on an empty stomach. After I get out of bed I brush my teeth and head straight for the kitchen. I take the 6 bottles of vitamins out and put them on the counter. I have to hold each one in my mouth for 30 seconds so while I’m doing that I clean up the dishes I left out from the night before. Time efficient and healthy.
After that routine I go in my room to do my Melt method hand and foot routine. (Seriously check out this method that includes rollers and balls to release the fascia that my friend Sue Hitzmann created) Helps to wake up my body and get rid of the kinks that sleeping puts in my body. I do this because I don’t want to feel tight when I walk my dogs and my body now craves it in the morning.
Once I put the balls away my dogs start getting excited because they know that walk time is near. I go back to the kitchen and get my pre breakfast of 2 tbsp of collagen and colostrum and a couple of pieces of leftover protein to help stabilize my blood sugar and get my cortisol levels up. I’m not hungry for a whole meal so this is my way to get something in my system so I don’t get hypoglycemic on my walk.
After this I reach for the dog leashes and that’s when the dogs go wild. I get them leashed up and am out the door by 6:00 or 6:30 on the weekends. Usually the first 5 minutes of the walk I’m thinking why am I out here so early? It’s either hot (June thru August) or cold (December thru March) and nobody else is around. Once we get a rhythm going I feel my mood and body lighten up. Every time we are done I am calmer and glad that I did it. And my dogs are happy. I remember that post walk feeling every time I don’t want to go on the walk and go because I crave that good feeling.
I think the hardest part of the habit is getting started. Pick a goal that is important to you. If health or fitting in a pair of pants is important then you’ll have to pick a routine that will give you that result. I suggest pick something that you’ve been wanting to do and make it as simple as possible to do.
If you want to get up to work out in the morning, put all of your clothes and shoes in your bathroom so you see them when you wake up. You’re in the bathroom anyway so might as well put them on. Once they’re on tell yourself that you’ll work out for 10 minutes and if you want to stop then you can stop. I’m pretty sure that after 10 minutes you’ll want to complete the workout. And if there’s a day that you don’t then so be it. You still stuck to the habit of working out for 10 minutes. Do it every day for 2 weeks. Don’t take a day off. You need that repetition to get the momentum going. You can work out lighter some days if you’re tired but still do it.
Try this with anything that you want to do on a regular basis. Taking care of your health first thing in the morning helps to avoid other things getting in the way. It’s already done by the time the rest of your day gets in the way.
Are you wanting to feel more rested? Sleep routines are also important. If you’re a parent you’ll remember how sacred the bedtime routine for your children was. Well, it’s still sacred into adulthood. A bed time routine helps our brain and body know what’s expected next, relaxation and sleep. After dinner I watch a show with my hubby, get my daughter into bed, sing her the same 7 songs I’ve been singing to her since she was born 8 years ago (her bedtime routine), go in my room take off my makeup, floss and brush my teeth, get my p.j.’s on, write in my gratitude journal, read for a few minutes and then snuggle next to my husband. I may not sleep the best for whatever reason but I feel complete with this routine so I can fall asleep pretty easily.
What routines have you found work for you in your health journey?