In this column, I am going to consider with you the possibility of creating a new healthy habit and how to do that. The topic arose for me, and now for you, when I started, but did not complete a 30-day squat challenge for myself on January 1 of this year and invited my friends and clients to join me.
Because I am well-aware of the benefits of squatting, I had hoped that I could create a new behavior pattern for myself. I wanted (and still want) squatting to become a habit, like flossing my teeth. Something I didn’t think about, but I did without thought. Cynthia Allen includes squats in her list of “7 Moves You Need for Graceful Moving” and points out that “Part of our developmental and evolutionary heritage is the ability to squat” and “Squats make every other function better.”
However, I must confess that I did not complete my own squat challenge. I had even set up a private Facebook support group and 10 people did join me in my journey. But my own resolve fell apart about mid-month, with the very real distraction of my husband’s hospitalization with a serious illness.
Things are smoothing out a bit now. I think I have more room to make this commitment and I started all over again on February 1st. And I became curious about how healthy habits are created and how I could help myself and others create a new habit, whether it be squatting or another healthy habit of their own choosing. Since I teach and practice intelligent movement, I am especially interested in how to create healthy habits that support more movement and more intelligent movement. But the same steps are available to anyone who wants to create a new habit.
A habit is something acquired by frequent repetition that you do regularly, often without knowing that you are doing it. It is a routine and habitual action without resistance or second-thought. Like brushing your teeth or flossing. I brush my teeth every day and I don’t even think about it. It’s just what I do. Originally, many years ago, I started brushing my teeth because my parents and my dentist told me it was good for me. Now brushing my teeth is a healthy habit. I do it without thinking about it. That is what I want squatting to become for me.
Our brain is very efficient. The brain likes to take a sequence of actions and convert them into an automatic routine, given the opportunity. When we repeat a behavior over and over, the brain moves that activity from thinking to non-thinking (habit) to free up more space in the thinking side of the brain for creativity. As a result, we all have lots of habits, both bad and good. We probably do more things unconsciously that we do consciously!
However, any habit that we now have can be replaced by overriding or replacing it with another habit. Buckminster Fuller says “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” This promise gives us real hope that we can decide to create a new, healthy habit, and be successful at doing so.
My current goal is to make daily squatting a habit that will happen without my thinking about it. In the name of self-care and self-love, I do not recommend starting or continuing a new habit challenge if a big distraction is on the scene. This journey, this commitment, should feel like fun, not overwhelm.
How long does it take for a new model of behavior to become a habit? Recent research says it takes an average of 66 days to create a new habit. However, the actual number of days that takes will depend on the individual and on the specific behavior that the individual chooses to create. Creating habits is easier for some than others. Researchers reported that, for some, habits formed in as little as 18 days and, for others, it took as long as 254 days. It took about 84 days for participants in a research study to form the habit of 50 sit-ups every morning.
I do not know how long it will take me to automate my squatting behavior, but I plan to repeat it consciously as long as needed until it become a new healthy, unconscious habit. It looks like will power is less involved in this project than science. I need to repeat the behavior enough times for it to become ingrained or embedded in my brain. I can tell you that, as of the date of the publication of this article, my squatting behavior has not yet become habitual. However, I am very excited to notice that, as the days go by, I am much more likely to remember mid-morning that I need to squat 10 times (or 20 times or 30 times). In the beginning, I had no internal clock on the subject. Something new is happening, for sure!
Here are 7 tips for creating of a new, healthy habit that I have gleaned from my research and my experience so far.
1. Choose a Behavior
Choose a new behavior that is important you, that will make a difference in the quality of your life. Choose one new behavior at a time. Remember that your goal is to repeat your behavior often enough to embed it into your unconscious as a regular, involuntary behavior. Describe your behavior in writing. This can be very brief. “I want to include squatting in my every day behavior without thinking about it.”
2. Identify Its Reward
After you have described your behavior, write a list of the benefits that you expect by making this behavior a habit. Fill a page. Keep this page nearby as a reference and an inspiration during your habit-creating journey. It is important to pay attention to the rewards and benefits you expect from your new habit. Each time you practice your behavior, focus on how good it feels to do the behavior. If you need to, refer to your list of benefits and then find the feeling. Having a clear reward in mind is important in the formation of a habit. Noticing how good it feels while you do the new behavior will also help make it a reality.
3. Create a Cue
Attach your new behavior to an existing habit or pattern or a time of the day that will act as a cue for you. I have attached my squatting behavior to my morning routine, after I have breakfast. If you want to run every day, you don’t tell yourself you will run when you have free time because you know that you will always find something else to do. Instead, run every day at the same time. Set your shoes at the door to remind you to run. A habit doesn’t stand alone in your brain. It is woven in with a whole network of actions. If it is repeated enough, those actions start to happen on autopilot.
4. Repeat Every Day
Repeat your new behavior every day. Preferable at the same time. Early is recommended. Otherwise the day can get away from you. Daily repetition is the most effective schedule or creating an involuntary behavior.
5. Ask a Friend or Friends to Join You
Your journey will be easier and more fun if you invite others to join you and you can support and inspire each other. (But keep going even if they don’t.) You might want to create a private Facebook group. Report to your group or your friend each day. Be accountable. Help them be accountable. When you are trying to create change, it’s more fun when you do it with others. And you are more likely to stay motivated and keep going.
6. Track your progress.
It will help you to stay on track if you record your progress each day starting at day 1. I developed a Healthy Habit 30-day Calendar for this purpose and it works really well for me. You can make one for yourself. Or contact me at [email protected] and I will send you a digital version to download and print. It looks like this.
As you can see I started on February 1st. I think starting on the first of the month keeps things tidy, but this is not required. I recommend logging your behavior immediately after you do it. I increase the number of squats I do, every 10 days, but that is optional. Just for fun. Post your calendar where you can see it and watch the days grow. Remember, if it takes longer than 30 days for your behavior to become habitual, you will have to use a second calendar, or third, or…. Hopefully not more, but, as mentioned above, it will depend on your personality and the nature of the new behavior.
I also recommend that you also keep a journal of your thoughts and your progress. How you feel and how you move will change over the course of your practice. Focus on the positive aspects of your journey. Expand on them. Feel them as you are writing in your journal. What we pay attention to grows bigger.
7. Notice the Feel Good
Treat your new behavior as an act of self-care and self-love, not an obligation. Take time to appreciate the benefits of your new behavior, during this habit-creating practice and later when the behavior becomes a new involuntary habit. Refer to your list of benefits often.
Become totally immersed in your new behavior while you are doing it. Pay full attention to your breath and the behavior. Appreciate how good it feels. Notice and appreciate how good it makes you feel. Remember that what you pay attention to grows bigger.
Talk generously to yourself about your new behavior. “I can do this.” “I am very good at this.” “I feel good when I do this.” “This is easy for me.” “This is fun.” “I can sustain this.” I am already reaping the benefits of my new behavior.” “I am looking forward to reaping even more benefits when this becomes my new healthy habit.” Say what is true for you right now. This kind of loving, self-talk will support you in your journey and create a bridge to your destination. On the other hand, any language of self-doubt or resistance will have the opposite effect.
8. Keep Going
If you miss a day, keep going. If you miss a lot of days, start over. If after 30-days, your new behavior is not yet an involuntary habit, start the 30-days again. Remember you desire to incorporate this new behavior into your daily life, as regular as breathing, as regular as brushing your teeth, and with little or no thought. As Christopher Reeve says: “At first dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable.” Keep going until your new behavior becomes inevitable, and habitual!
Thank you, Dear Readers, for letting me drop into your lives for a little while. I hope that the information I shared in this column will help you get started if you want to create a new healthy habit. If I can answer any questions, please contact me at [email protected] or www.intelligentmovementforever.com.
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My mission is to help people unlock their intelligent, pain-free movement for better performance and healthy longevity. I help my students and clients pay attention to how they move and breath and nurture what works and quiet what doesn’t. I would love to hear from you if that strikes a chord.
I offer individual private sessions in my home studio in Col. Versalles, in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, MX and online for 500 pesos. I can also come to your villa, resort, or condominium for 700 pesos per session. Contact me by email at [email protected] or online at https://bookappointmentwithvia.setmore.com/ to book a session.
As you and I both know, health is wealth and movement is medicine.
Yours in Good Health,