On the Generation of Habits

In our previous blog post, we talked about how we’d provide our students and their families and friends with a structure that would support them in their efforts to shift into or upgrade their holistically well lifestyles. Last Saturday, we kicked off that effort—called the Live Well 21-Day Wellness Challenge—in our 108 Sun Salutations event. The idea behind the challenge is simple: you can create a desired lifestyle by taking actions consistent with that lifestyle every single day for 21 days—in other words, by creating habits.

According to renowned trainer and educator Dr. Stephanie Burns, habits “are those things that you do without thinking”—things like taking a shower or putting on shoes. Because they’re done on autopilot, habits “are far less energy consuming” than actions that require the efforts of remembrance or motivation. Imagine how much time and energy you’d use up if you actually had to remember to brush your teeth, and once you did, decide whether you should make the effort or not. By generating desirable wellness habits, we therefore reduce the amount of energy needed to maintain holistically well lifestyles.

In today’s blog post, we pull together some of the most consistently-cited tips as far as successful habit creation is concerned. The good news is that, contrary to popular perception, failures in habit creation don’t stem so much from a dearth of commitment or discipline as from an absence of strategy and structure. In short, while habits themselves don’t require thinking, creating good habits actually takes a fair amount of thought—and the following are the things that you need to think about:

Have a purpose. Before you embark on a habit creation program, get clear first on why you want to create the habit. How does the habit fulfill your values or further your intentions? The more you can link the habit to the things you ultimately care about, the easier it will be to maintain. For instance, meditating 15 minutes a day might not seem like a lot of fun, but if you can connect it to being more patient with your children or being more focused at work, then the 15 minutes start to feel like a good use of time.

Create a network. As human beings, we’re embedded in networks of relationships whether we like it or not. Few things will therefore doom your habit creation efforts as much as attempting to go solo. Getting the support of other people is valuable for two reasons: on the positive side, they can encourage you in your efforts and hold you to account; on the negative side, they can sabotage you if they don’t have buy-in in what you’re trying to accomplish. Either way, part of creating a new habit is getting the people in your life positively involved.

Have a plan. Until they become ingrained into your lifestyle, habits will be actions that you’ll need to remember to do and motivate yourself to do. To aid recall, create reminders: set alarms on your phone (e.g., “meditate now”), make notes on your calendar (e.g., “be in bed by 10:00 pm”) or put visual triggers in strategic places (e.g., park your yoga mat next to your bed). To aid motivation, make the actions easy to do, or, make them hard NOT to do (e.g., fill a huge thermos with eight glasses of water and put it on your desk versus going to the cooler every single time). Remember: neither your memory nor your willpower is as reliable as you think.

Keep a record. It’s hard to know how far you’ve gone and how far you’ve got to go if you don’t keep track. So record the actions you take—and the more specific you can be the better.

Manage expectations. When it comes to creating habits, start small and be ready for the occasional failure. If you want to become a vegetarian, start with one vegetarian meal a day and build from there. Planning for failure also doesn’t mean planning to fail—it simply means being realistic enough to recognize that life will get in the way of the best-laid plans. By recognizing the inevitability of the occasional slip-up, you can bounce back and pick up where you left off rather than wallow in unproductive guilt and shame.

Create rewards. Given how many things demand our time and attention, no victory is ever too small to acknowledge. Pat yourself on the back for every milestone and be clear on how you want to celebrate when the habit is well and truly a part of your lifestyle.

So that’s it! We hope that by participating in our Live Well 21-Day Wellness Challenge and by applying the principles above, you can “start a habit and create a lifestyle”—one that fulfills your deepest values and embodies your greatest aspirations.

Namaste.

Abbey and Eileen

About White Space Wellness

White Space Wellness empowers individuals in elevating their quality and experience of life and in becoming their highest expressions through yoga, mindfulness and nutrition.

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