Dreaming of making healthy lifestyle changes? A psychologist shares some expert tips for creating new habits, one step at a time.
When it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, it’s not always as simple as ‘just doing it.’
But if you can create a new habit, it often becomes much easier.
"When something is a habit, it’s a familiar behaviour to us,” explains clinical psychologist Susannah Kimmel, founder of Intuitive Psychology in Fremantle.
“It doesn’t use up so much of our energy or have as much resistance and difficulty around it.”
So how do you create a habit? And more importantly, how do you stick to it?
Here, Kimmel shares a few things that may help.
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1. Connect it to an existing habit
You probably already have lots of habits in your day – like brushing your teeth, or feeding a pet, or changing your clothes after work.
Kimmel suggests using these existing habits as your cue to practice the new behaviour. For example, your morning cup of coffee could be your reminder to do a 10-minute meditation or practice a language.
“Knitting it together with an activity you already do can really reduce the level of stress and difficulty around it,” she says.
2. Schedule it in
Your calendar can be another great cue, and a good way to make sure you’re allocating enough time for what you want to do.
“Put a block of time aside in your calendar to make sure it's realistic that you can get it done,” Kimmel suggests.
For example, if your goal is to go for a jog twice a week, choosing the specific days and times and making the mental commitment to yourself may be more effective than just waiting and seeing when you feel like going.
3. Think about your ‘why’
“Focusing on why this change in behaviour is important to you is a really good way to stay motivated,” Kimmel says.
It can also be a good idea to identify if your motivation is ‘extrinsic’ (or external – for example, based on what other people might think or expect) or ‘intrinsic’ (coming from a genuine desire within yourself).
“It’s often much better if you have intrinsic motivation – that is, if it’s linked to the kind of person you want to be, or what your values are, or something you can develop legitimate excitement around,” she says.
“That’s what’s going to help you when resistance comes up.”
4. Link it to a bigger goal or dream
If you can’t find a strong intrinsic ‘why’, Kimmel says the next best thing would be to link it to a bigger goal.
“For example, if you’re trying to make a habit of cooking at home instead of getting takeout, and you have a dream to go on a trip to the Maldives, you could focus on the money you’re saving that can go towards that,” she says.
“Then you can look at photos and think about your dream trip, and that can help keep you motivated.”
5. Focus on one habit at a time
It can be tempting to want to make big, sweeping lifestyle changes, but Kimmel suggests making it easier on yourself by choosing one thing at a time.
"When we're trying to do something new, it takes up a lot of our resources," she explains.
“The more new tasks we’re taking on that haven’t become automated yet, the more we’re asking of ourselves.”
6. Be realistic and create space for it
When trying to start something new, you might want to consider what else is going on in your life – like other commitments that will also need your time and energy.
"If you feel like there's no time for this new activity, you might have to be realistic,” Kimmel says.
“See if you can remove some of the other demands in your life, or wait until there is more time and space."
7. Have a flexible mindset
If you miss a day or you’re finding it challenging to create the habit, be kind to yourself.
“You don’t have to do things perfectly to make progress,” Kimmel says. “Instead of seeing it as a failure, ask yourself, ‘What can I learn from this?’
"Imagine how you'd talk to your best friend about it and try to use that same gentleness and positivity with yourself.”
When to seek help
If you’ve tried all these tips and you’re still finding it difficult to make the change, the reason may be deeper than a ‘lack of self-discipline’, Kimmel says.
“A lot of our behaviour is driven by our emotions and our subconscious,” she says.
“For example, it could be that low motivation is coming from low mood, or it could even be that your subconscious isn’t ready for that change.”
You may benefit from some support and guidance, such as from a psychologist.
“A psychologist can help you tease out some of these subconscious influences that might be affecting your habits, and support you in working through them.”
How can health insurance help?
- HBF extras cover for psychology can give you benefits towards visits with a psychologist, who can give you guidance and support for creating healthy changes and managing your mental wellbeing.
If you’re an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.
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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.