4 Stages to Healthier Habits

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

Want Better Habits?

Do you have a health habit you want to change? Vowing to eat healthier foods? Promising yourself to exercise more or get more fit? Deciding it’s time to quit smoking or sleep longer or strength train?

Have you tried to set better habits before only to fail? Forget any past unsuccessful attempts. Accept that habit change requires more than willpower or goal setting. You need a tried and true strategy based on how we really behave.

Kymberly: I got to hear licensed psychologist, Neil Fiore, PhD, speak on behavior change at Rancho la Puerta Fitness Spa (“the Ranch”), when I was teaching there last week. Oh, those high level speakers the Ranch attracts for evening sessions — Just another bonus of going to Tecate, Mexico! I plan to make my presence there a habit! (Ya hear that, Ranch team?).

According to Dr. Fiore, a specialist in productivity, successful habit change is a four stage process.

Stage 1: Make Up Your Mind

Evaluate the pros and cons of the habit you want and the habit you are trying to leave behind. What are the risks? The benefits? What pain are you feeling and what are you willing to do to “kill” that pain?

Alexandra: For many people, the habit we are trying to leave behind is “eating food I know isn’t good for me.” What that really means is, “This food is not good for my weight loss goal, but it is good at giving me an immediate, temporary good emotional feeling.” So the habit to leave behind isn’t eating those foods; it’s eating them as a mood amelioration. One idea is to make up your mind to change that link.

Stage 2 – Commit to Change

Get back to Rancho la Puerta, Kymberly

Get back to the Ranch? Just gotta habit!

Kymberly: Make a plan to get from the old to new habit. Map out the small steps required to shift from A to B. Consider the distractions you will face. Become aware of each action item needed to transition to better health.

Alexandra: Using the example above, commit to writing down your mood whenever you eat. Not just your mood on foods you feel aren’t helping your long-term goal, but also the ones that are. Probably the biggest challenge will be committing to writing everything down! Write that down! Jacktastic! (If you get this reference you are part of the Melissa McCarthy groupies club, and should definitely be committed!)

Stage 3 – Take Action

Kymberly: Decide where and when you will start the new habit. What is your schedule? Accept that you will face doubts and anxious moments. Then show up despite your fears.

Alexandra: Okay, sometimes it’s not so good to show up, especially if Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream is calling you like one of Homer’s sirens. Your action plan would be to write down your food intake and moods and just observe. That’s it–observe what occurs. Interestingly, when people become aware of their habits, they change them without a lot of conscious effort (and the anguish that goes with it). Just as you picked up some bad habits without really intending to, so can you get rid of them. Obviously, it’s harder for some habits than others, especially if chemicals are involved (think smoking).

Fire those bad habits

Fiery redheads unite to fire those bad habits! From wall art at Rancho la Puerta.

Stage 4 – Have a Long Term Plan

Kymberly: Truth?! You CAN handle the truth!: You will have setbacks. What is your recovery plan? Dr Fiore highlighted this as a key component of habit change success. Those who fall by the wayside give up after a setback, thinking one mistake or one bad moment means failure. Happy habit changers have accounted for the probability of setbacks and create a “get back on track” strategy.

Alexandra: In other words, plan to fail. Because planning will lead to success. No-one likes to be bossed around or told what one should or can’t do, even when it’s you talking to yourself. Create your plan based on what you can and will do! Picture your road to success as having rest stops, not as one big U-turn. Changing habits is mental so if you plan to incorporate the slow-downs, you’ll think, “Aha, I was expecting this, and now I will move forward again,” which is totally different than, “Aha, I’m a loser because I got off the straight and narrow and therefore forget it.”

There you habit!

Readers: What new or improved habit are you currently working on?

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