The NEW YEAR is almost upon us and every year people make all kinds of resolutions. Can you guess what is the number one resolution is for 2012? If you guessed something to do with getting fit, losing weight, eating a healthier diet, you’re right. I made such a resolution in 1979 when L was out of shape and overweight. I made that resolution and have kept it alive by making my health a priority evry day since then. And as a token measure of this commitment, I have worked out every Christmas and New Years day for the past 32 years. This symbol of commitment to my health is as important as putting up the Christmas tree.
If I told you a new pill that could be found on the drugstore shelf that promises to strengthen your heart, manage your weight and boost your spirits and self confidence, you would probably dismiss my suggestion as "snake oil". But exercise (even a brisk walk) does all this and more! Walking is simple, and doesn't cost a cent and if you haven't been active for a while, it's a gentle low-impact exercise to ease you into a higher level of fitness and health.
With every passing year of your life, you have more to gain from being physically active and paying close attention to what goes in your mouth. As age-related risks of chronic degenerative disease increase, regular exercise and a healthy diet will either slow or reverse that trend. In fact, you're even more likely to notice the benefits of regular exercise and healthy food choices if you already have chronic health conditions.
Will you ever be fit again, and stay that was as long as you live? The answer is NO, unless you make a resolution to get fit and turn it into a habit . So the issue isn’t whether you need one more article describing all the benefits of exercise and diet, no, the post is how does one make heathy life choices automatic HABITS.
How long does it take a HABIT to become AUTOMATIC?
Say you want to create a new lifestyle habit, like regular exercise, how often does it need to be performed before it no longer requires Herculean self control to become a habit?
Clearly it’s going to depend on the type of habit you’re trying to form and how determined you are in pursuing your goal. Ask Mr. Google and you’ll get a figure of somewhere between 21 and 28 days. In fact there’s no solid evidence for this number. The 21 day habit myth came from a book published in 1960 by plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz when he noticed that amputees took, on average, 21 days to adjust to the loss of a limb and he argued that people take 21 days to adjust to any major life changes.
According to Clinical Psychologist Dr. Peter H Brown, two significant factors influence the time it takes a behavior to become an automatic habit, 1) how bad do you want it, and 2) how life changing is the behavior. Given these two variables the average time to form a habit is 66 days and can swing from as low as 18 days to as high as 254 days.
Back in 1979 when I made my resolution and started running again, I hated every step at the beginning, but it only took a couple months to make running an automatic daily habit and although I switched to triathlons and cycling since then, exercise has always been a life priority that’s as automatic as breathing.
Make your HABIT HAPPEN
I think I’ve heard just about every excuse why people don’t exercise and make their personal health a high priority over the years. Here are the top 10:
- I’m too old to exercise, besides health is for the young, not the old
- I’m too fat and embarrassed the way I look to exercise
- I’ve tried to exercise in the past and it’s just something I’m not good at
- I can’t afford to exercise as gym memberships are far too expensive for my budget
- I hate exercising, it’s so boring
- I have the genetics that prevent me from losing weight, so why bother exercising
- I can’t exercise because there’s no gym near my house
- I can’t exercise because I don’t know how to start
- I can’t exercise because I don’t own any fitness
- I can't exercise because I'm too tired
By far, the number one excuse I hear more than all the other excuses combined is, “I’m too busy and don’t have time to exercise.” Well, if this excuse were true, why are the gym’s, roads and pathway’s full of people that CAN make time in there schedules. People that exercise have schedules that are just as busy as people that don’t. So the real reason why people can’t find time to exercise is that their personal health and the health of their families isn't a priority.
How do you form a good Habit
So let’s take a look at how you can make exercise or other positive life choices automatic habits that are hard to break.
- You need to pick a habit or goal that’s realistic. Deciding to run for 2 hours a day, for 3 months straight is a goal that will likely fail and lead to injury. Set yourself up for success and pick a habit or goal that you can accomplish. A goal like walking or going to the gym 5 days a week for the next 8 weeks is a good start.
- Pick an activity you enjoy. I personally love cycling and my habit is so entrenched in my life that I’ve become a master of fitting a workout into my day regardless of how busy I am. Daily exercise for me is my normal state and an unscheduled day off is an uncomfortable anomaly.
- Once you’ve selected an activity you love to do every day and have set your goal, ask yourself WHY this goal is so important. If you can’t come up with a solid reason or reasons to support your goal, success will be harder to achieve. I coached my wife for a entire year in preparation to participate in a bike ride from Calgary Alberta to Austin Texas in support of Cancer Survivors. Having big PURPOSE will provide the BIG motivation you need to succeed.
So here are some steps to set yourself up for success:
- Write down your habit with specifics, like your goal, days per week you will exercise, time of the day, etc. The more specific you are the better chance of meeting your objective
- Tell everyone you know that you’re making a commitment to your health by doing (fill in your goal). This will help you be more accountable for a positive outcome. And is the world of Social Networks, leverage Facebook or Twiter and tell the world. It will be more difficult to quit your resolution after announcing to so many people.
- If you know you’ll require help sticking to your plan, hire a personal trainer for 3 to 4 months, or sign up for a registered fitness class so you have a schedule and routine that becomes habit forming. And don’t give the cost a second thought, we’re talking about your health and there is nothing more important. Just ask someone that has a degenerative disease like cancer what they would pay for the health you currently take for granted.
- Have your spouse join you, or at least encourage you in your new commitment to health.
Remember that as with any new adventure in life, there will be ups and downs. You really need to complete at least 66+ consecutive days of scheduled exercise of varying work loads of hard and easy days. And if you should miss a day here and there, don’t worry, research shows that missing the odd day has little affect on the goal becoming an automatic habit.
If there are other healthy lifestyle goals that require addressing, like your diet, don’t try to change everything at once. Focus on tackling one goal at a time. After you’re in your healthy exercise routine, than tackle your diet and other lifestyle goals.
You health should be your highest life priority. As my mother told me when she was dying of Leukemia, "If you don't have your health, you have nothing." As Christmas and New Year celebrations are right around the corner, why not make tomorrow the first day of the rest of your life, a healthy life. No more excuses, start making it happen.
Happy Holidays and Enjoy the Ride .... Rob