To Make a Good Habit Stick, Notice How Good It Feels
Paying attention to the payoffs will help you solidify good habits.
Posted Mar 19, 2019
Is there a “bad” habit that you want to replace with a healthier choice, but struggle to get yourself to do it?
You may be paying too much attention to what you think you’ll lose by giving up the habit.
Try flipping your perspective. Good habits are called “good” for a reason. They typically bring about good results in a person’s life, usually far better than any benefits you get from staying stuck in the opposite or “bad” habit.
If you’re thinking about making a change in an area of your life, reflect on the consequences of the two choices.
If you keep doing what you’re doing now, what will be the short-term and long-term results? What will the negative consequences look like? Be brutally honest with yourself.
Now, think of the positive change, the new habit that you want to implement in this area of your life. What will be hard about it? On the flip side, what will the short-term and long-term benefits be, if you make the change? Really think about this. Imagine in your mind and body, how you would feel if you make this positive change and got it to stick.
How would your life be different? Can you see and feel this new version of you?
This isn’t an exercise in fantasy. We’re talking about realities here, that’s the point. Poor choices may feel good at the moment, but the negative consequences are usually pretty bad. Their effects can last for years. Good choices can require determination and some sacrifices, but the results are usually so positive that it gets easier and easier to keep making that good choice with time.
Here are some examples in my life:
Good Habit #1: Getting enough sleep
I’ve drastically improved my lifelong habit of staying up late. I achieved this by paying attention to the way I feel if I’ve gone to bed early the night before and gotten enough sleep. (I used a sleep journal to figure this out, you can read about that here)
The difference is huge. I’m more alert, in a better mood, more productive and generally feel great if I’ve slept enough. If I get even just an hour less, I feel headachy, tense, grumpy and am less productive.
I’ve also observed that when I go to bed late, I tend to wake up early and wake up throughout the night because I worry that I won’t get enough sleep. If I go to bed earlier and give myself a better shot at getting a full eight hours, I’m much more relaxed. I sleep better and I’m able to sleep longer.
My husband used to have to push me to get to bed early. No more!
Good Habit #2: Eating more whole foods and avoiding processed, sugary foods
I’ve written before about how I used to turn to various processed foods (especially sugary ones) as a source of comfort. I’d feel soothed and comforted at the moment, but the effects wouldn’t last long. As soon as I’d finished eating the cookies, cake, ice cream or whatever, I’d feel overstuffed and full of regret. My skin would break out after. I’d feel lethargic or moody (unhealthy foods are unhealthy for the brain and our mental health). I’d eat way higher fat, high-calorie food than I needed to, so I’d gain weight and feel bad about that, feeling frustrated about my clothes not fitting.
You can see here that the ratio of bad results to good results is pretty large. Not much good here, other than a brief feeling of comfort and a brief escape from life’s problems (problems that don’t get any better, after eating a tub of ice cream).
On the other hand, if I reach for a healthier snack in those moments, such as an apple, a juicy orange, or a mug of my favorite hot ginger tea, I won’t have regrets. My body and brain will benefit from the healthy snack. I won’t overeat fruit (except blueberries, and those have virtually no calories and tons of health benefits). Instead of waking the next day feeling bloated and with a food hangover, I’ll feel lighter and clearheaded.
There are some minor potential negatives associated with making the “good” choice. It can be challenging at the moment to reach for something healthy instead of my usual addictive go-to. I’ll miss out on that feel-good hit that a sugary treat gives. It also might be tough, in a social situation, to say no to dessert and have to watch my friends as they enjoy indulging themselves (been there, done that, last weekend…and the weekend before that). Dessert only lasts for a few minutes, though. Knowing my friends, they will almost surely regret it after. And I’ll be really glad that I stuck to my resolve to eat healthily.
Note: I’m not saying there’s no place in life for treats, but most people I know struggle with overeating and wish that they could make better choices, more often. This perspective will help you to do that.
Good Habit #3: Getting to the gym
I used to say I hated the gym and would only do exercise that I loved, like flamenco dancing. That worked as long as I was dancing several times a week. Life has changed since. I realized in the last couple of years that if I wanted to continue to be in shape, feel good in my clothes and enjoy vibrant health and energy, I was going to have to get serious about formal exercise.
If I didn’t exercise several times a week, the upside would be that I’d have more free time and could indulge myself when feeling lazy (by doing nothing, on a regular basis). I also didn’t have to go through the experience of being bored to death while on some cardio machine.
The downside was that I’d get progressively flabbier over time. I’d surely gain weight over the years, and get progressively weaker and frailer. I’d have less energy. I wouldn’t handle stress as well (exercise is protective against burnout) and I’d be more irritable and moody (exercise can dramatically improve your mood; I’m someone with a history of depression who struggles with moodiness). Not exactly a winning formula.
I’ve found out, from finally going to the gym several times a week, that it makes me feel great. Even if I’ve had a rough night of sleep, a good workout will perk me up and turn a potentially useless day into a good one. I feel more confident. I love the way my body and muscles feel. Feeling fit literally gives me a spring in my step. It’s gotten to the point now that if I don’t have some form of significant daily exercise, I feel gross.
As for the boring cardio, I’ve discovered that the stationary bikes at the gym are a great place for reading books on my phone’s Kindle app, or for writing my microblogs for social media. And that’s just the short list of benefits.
I encourage you to pay attention to the lasting and very real benefits of making good choices, even if they’re challenging to make at the beginning.
So: What’s the good choice you’re going to start to make? Get ready to feel good. It may take making some minor sacrifices at the moment, but they will be worth it.
Copyright 2019 Dr. Susan Biali Haas