Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Making the changes in 2012

Starting the New Year with a resolution for a fitter and healthier you is easy when you are still on holiday feeling great and motivated.  But how do you maintain new healthy habits when your resolve starts to fade?

There are two things many of us have at the start of a new year; great ideas for healthy change and plenty of motivation!

The problem with motivation is that it disappears quite quickly. So whether you're starting an exercise routine, trying to eat breakfast every day, or need to lose weight, how can you make your resolutions last beyond the second week of January?

If we really want to change we need to figure out a way to keep doing the things that are required even when we don't feel like it or we're not excited about it. Like brushing your teeth, you do that most time without even thinking about it or even not wanting to do it.

It is a routine "a habit" that we have been taught since we were very young and we just do it.

But when it comes to exercise and healthy eating habits we have a very hard time changing even though we are bombarded with information about how important it is. The difference is that with the tooth brushing our parents told us it was important and they also made us do it, which meant it became a habit.  

The first step in applying ourselves is to accept that with change comes discomfort.

We might have to get up earlier to exercise, we might have to say no to a chocolate cake at work, and we have to spend some time during the weekend planning the weekly meals and maybe even cook some meals.

By accepting that from the beginning and be prepared for that we can improve our chances and be proud of our self when we can manage hurtles and stick to our goals.

We have to find a way that works for us and there is no "one way fits all" concept. 

If, for example, you are middle-aged and have back problems that make exercise difficult, don't just become a couch potato.

No single magic formula works for changing every habit - depending on what you are trying to achieve, different approaches and expectations will be required.

Changing a habit doesn't happen over night; you didn't get your habit overnight; be patient and as long as you stick to your goals let it take time.

Research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it can take 18 to 254 days for behaviors to become automatic when performed repetitively.

The good news is that missing the occasional day didn't affect the process, the researchers found.

Another study shows that although changing a behavior can take a lot of effort to begin with, it does become more automatic and therefore easier over time.

And once we form a habit, even if we stop it, it will be easier to reintroduce next time around because patterns in the brain that were formed when we established the habit quickly re-emerge according to US researchers who examined behavior in rats.

On the other side though, this is also true for bad habits.

So if you want to make your resolutions stick, here are some golden rules to developing healthy habits:

*     Don't try to change too much at once. Focus on just one or two new habits at a time.

*     Be clear about your goals.

*     Focus on why you are trying to change. Know the benefits of changing and the consequences or costs of not.

*     Make time for your new habits. Get up an hour earlier if you intend to fit exercise into your schedule, or give yourself time to walk to the train station instead of driving.

*     Create an accountability system. Keep a diary.

*     Get regular reinforcement through reminder systems or visual cues such as photographs.

*     Monitor your progress. This can be through your diary, regular records of your activities, etc.

Yours in Health & Fitness,

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