How to start changing your habits for good

Last month, we examined what habits are and how noticing and identifying them can help us change life for the better. This month, we'll explore how we can start changing any of the habits we’ve identified for good.

It’s easy to think that changing habits is simply a matter of willpower and improving self-control. However, if we’ve called on our willpower reserves throughout the day, we can often find we’ve run out by the evening, when we might need it the most!

Willpower can be pretty effective at times.

The bad news is we only have a limited supply available. We need to know how and when to use it wisely.

Refuelling willpower requires sleep and food. If we feel Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, it's often a sign our reserves may be depleted. It’s a good time to HALT, rather than relying on willpower alone to keep us on the right track.

This is why it’s often helpful to tackle our biggest challenges in the morning, when our tank is full, rather than later in the day, when we may be running on empty! It’s also why relying on willpower alone is unlikely to be the best way to succeed at making lasting changes.

We’re better off investing in increasing our awareness of the positive and negative 'triggers' that start each habit 'loop'. (See last month’s blog here).

Habit triggers can be external or internal - and either of these can trigger a habit loop.

With external cues, we may see something in our environment (eg. biscuits) that provides a visual prompt to take action. With internal cues, we may feel something inside (eg. hungry).

The good news, is we can use willpower to avoid triggers that can lead to unhealthy behaviours. We can also put ourselves in the way of good things, by providing ourselves with positive triggers that lead to alternative healthier behaviours instead.

How can we do that?

Rather than using up all our willpower fighting battles on the fly, harnessing it to do some intentional planning ahead of time, can serve us better. For example, using our willpower to buy a healthier snack (rather than biscuits) at the shops, means we avoid the external trigger (seeing the biscuits), and are better prepared to face our internal triggers (eg. hunger) later in the day.

Asking these questions can also help:

  • What time of day do I find troublesome triggers often arise?

  • What am I doing (or not doing...)?

  • Where am I, when I experience these habits or triggers?

  • How am I feeling?

  • Who is with me? (and what are they doing?)    

If we're looking to start a new habit and embed it in a daily or weekly routine, we can also try bolting it on to an existing habit. Building good things on top of healthy habits that are already secure can work really well.

Becoming more intentional means that one good thing can lead to another.

Interestingly, choosing and eating healthy snacks often leads to us making other healthy choices too eg. drinking more water - or doing the sorts of things that our brains tell us healthier people do, like going for a walk.

As always, building gradual, sustainable change is the key to lasting success. You don't need to wait to celebrate until you've got this nailed. Learn to celebrate each small victory - and celebrate on the way!

If you want to do something today that your future self will thank you for, why not commit to tackle ONE aspect or one of your identified habits this week?

If you'd like to explore this topic more, hear some fresh ideas and find some friends for the journey, why not come and join our online Angels Community?

This month, we're exploring changing one of our own habits and talking about what's working for us. Wherever we are.

If you’d like to join us, why not become an Intentional Health Angel and let us support you to become more intentional about your own health and wellbeing? Membership of our Angels Community is our way of saying Thank You to the amazing group people who financially support the life-changing work of Intentional Health across the UK, by giving a small monthly donation. Membership includes support from the team and exclusive access to our monthly worksheets and a live 30 minute webinar. We’ll be on hand to answer your questions and share some stories, to help inspire you to be more intentional about your health and wellbeing, as your gifts enable us to serve others. Click here to find out more.