When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, I often encourage people to build healthy habits and not rely on restriction. Because let’s face it….restriction doesn’t work. This is all well and good, but for some, it can feel very abstract and woo woo. So, today I want to share my favorite “rule” or actionable item that will help you build new lifestyle habits.
It’s true that once we have a healthy habit, it’s just as hard to break as an unhealthy habit. So the theory goes, that if we are able to create more habits that promote wellness, we will slowly, and seemingly effortlessly become more healthy. I really like that effortless part. Here’s the deal, though, habits are not effortless from the beginning. While we want to get to the point where we don’t need to use willpower in order to make decision that lead to wellness, it’s not automatic. It DOES take willpower to build the habits the first go round.
In order to build a habit we must use willpower. And in order to not use up all our willpower at once I often suggest choosing only one to two new habits to work on at once. This works very well. The other, more abstract thing we can do is to make pre-decisions.
I can’t tell you how many times pre-decisions have saved me. And while some may see it as rigorous or not intuitive, I tend to disagree. We know, for our bodies, it’s best if we do or don’t do certain things. Obviously, these are not the same for everyone.
A good, neutral, example of this is caffeine. Some can tolerate caffeine well and can chug 1-2 cups of regular coffee after dinner with dessert and be virtually unaffected. I, on the other hand, know that if I have 1-2 cups of regular coffee at ANY point in the day, I am crazy and tend to not feel great later on.
So, because of this, I have a set pre-decision that I don’t consume caffeine. Not because there’s anything wrong with caffeine, but because for me, it’s not a great choice. I choose not to have it because I will FEEL like complete doody.
At this point in my life I’d say 95% of the time I consume zero caffeine. It’s just a habit and it’s not difficult at all. My friends know, my family knows. It’s just not a great choice for me. BUT, I did have a period of time (maybe 2-3 months) where it was hard for me to pass up on tea and coffee because of the caffeine content. During those habit forming months I merely made the pre-decision that it was not worth it for me.
Pre-deciding something, when you’re not in the heat of the moment, eliminates the use of willpower when you ARE in the heat of the moment. You have a fall back answer that takes very little, if any willpower to follow through with.Pre-deciding something, when you’re not in the heat of the moment, eliminates the use of willpower when you ARE in the heat of the moment. Click To Tweet
Pre-decisions can be used for any new habit. Another way to think of pre-decisions is to use if-then statements. “If the only coffee option is caffeinated, then I’ll choose herbal tea or hot water with lemon.”
My biggest caution here is to not get too rigorous. Isn’t it always the case that there has to be a caveat to everything? With pre-decisions and habit forming, we continually need to check our motives, making sure we’re not doing something based on external and arbitrary rules, but because it feels right for us, at the moment.
Some in the intuitive eating community will fault me for suggesting this concept, and I understand where they’re coming from. However, I see no harm in setting ourselves up for success when we’re building habits that promote wellness. If you need another example, think of meal prepping or grocery shopping. If you buy bananas and RX bars when you shop, then, on a weekday afternoon when you’re hungry, guess what will be available? Bananas and RX Bars! Again, this doesn’t mean these foods are good and others are bad, but these two foods are examples of foods that make me feel great, so I’m going to surround myself with things like that. At least, that is, while I’m building new habits.
Cheers to all you out there working on your habits and building a lasting lifestyle!