We’ve all heard or read that it takes two weeks to form a habit. The logical, data loving side of me assumes there have been studies that yielded some quality statistics and probability that demonstrate that if, on average, you maintain a behavior for two weeks, the probability of you maintaining that habit for the long-term goes up significantly. But the other side of me screams, “Hang the math, I need something relatable! Give me a metaphor! (Or a simile, whichever seems more appropriate for the situation at hand!)”
New habits are like new shoes.
Sometimes, when you buy a new pair of shoes, they fit nicely and feel great right away. You can immediately start wearing them every day, without any trouble or side effects at all. But more often than not, a new pair of shoes takes a little breaking in. You know they fit and are just the shoes you need, but they need to be broken in. You might have some blisters and may have to wear band-aids or an extra pair of socks a few times before the shoes conform comfortably to your feet. And then, let’s be honest, there are some shoes that are never very comfortable at all. You wear those only for short times and for certain occasions, but they’re necessary for a specific reason. For example, my winter boots are awful for walking long distances or standing all day, but they keep my feet toasty warm in the coldest of Minnesota conditions.
Habits are the same. Some habits are easy to come by and become a part of your daily routine with minimal energy or thought. Others are more difficult and take some time and serious effort before becoming an integrated part of your life. And there will be a few that are always a bit uncomfortable and never part of your natural disposition. Hopefully, as with the shoes, those habits are the ones you need less often but for very specific reasons.
This year, I am going to get one new pair of healthy shoes per month.
January: Tracking and water. Look how I lied immediately. I said one healthy habit per month and I’m starting with two! But I’m only starting with two because, for me, water is one of those super comfy pairs of shoes. Slippers, really. Honestly, it’s easier for me to get into a water habit than it is to explain why I get out of the habit of drinking water. As long as I have a glass/mug/bottle of water in front of me, that’s what I drink. My other focus for January is tracking my food and exercise. This one is always a bit harder, although I know it’s a critical brick in my foundation for a healthy life. The self-awareness alone always yields positive results, even without actively changing any habits. My goal in January is not only to track, but to figure out the best way to track in order to make this a sustainable habit throughout the year.
February: Exercise. I have two goals in regards to exercise. For the past few months, I have been pretty good about making it to boot camp on Wednesday and Friday mornings. There is a class on Monday as well, but I am a bit sketchy about making it on Mondays, so my first goal is to make it Mondays (today I started my own hashtag #makeitMonday – I’m hoping to use it 51 more times in 2015). My second goal is going to be another challenge, but one that I have proven to myself is more than worth the effort for both my physical and mental health: get back to running. I’ve used it in the past to effectively help manage my depression and I’ve fallen off the wagon over the past year. I plan to run two to three times a week – doesn’t have to be a great distance or a crazy amount of time, I just need to get out and pound the pavement.
March: Stretching. This kind of goes along with exercise so I wanted to keep them close together. I am not sure yet how to get more stretching into my daily routine, but I definitely need to work on my flexibility. Ideally, after establishing a more consistent exercise schedule, it should not take much extra effort to work in more stretching.
April: Sleep routines. Sleep is a critical, but often overlooked, aspect of health. I know this for myself, even without the studies that say so. The problem is that I do not sleep well at all. I’ve done a sleep study that only confirmed that I do not sleep, but didn’t give me any medical clues as to why. I know that I can be much better about planning evening routines and setting up a relaxed atmosphere in the bedroom. Over the next few months, I will research other factors that could help improve my sleep situation so that I am ready with a plan come April.
May: Meal planning. One of our biggest downfalls for both financial and physical health is the fact that we eat out out all the time. Between work and activities, we are frequently busy in the evenings and it’s often easier to go somewhere or pick something up rather than cook a meal at home. I just got a programmable crock pot for Christmas and need to make sure we get a lot of use out of it this year. This is one of the more important healthy habits, but I think it will be one of the most challenging and I will need to do a lot of research (revisit Pinterest??) to get ready for May.
June: Fruits and vegetables. Early summer is just the time to start increasing our fruit and vegetable intake. Following up a month of meal planning, it should be pretty easy to plan in plenty of servings of fresh farmer’s market produce. I should start learning how to shop by season and may consider another attempt at planting some of our own.
July: More whole foods. This is really just taking June one step farther and adding in fresh meats or other protein. Honestly, it’s almost cheating to do this in July since there’s nothing better than grilling in a Minnesota summer.
August: Vitamins/supplements. I might have to revisit this one since I’m already pretty good about taking daily vitamins, but I think after a few months of changing my food intake, it could be a good time to evaluate what (if any) supplements and vitamins are needed. Or maybe it’s just a review month.
September: On the go/healthy snacks. Back to school and hockey means we will be back to busy, busy, busy! Part of the reason I want to get healthy is to make sure that the kids will develop healthy habits while they are still pretty young. With us always on the run, we need to have quick, healthy food to grab and go on the way to school or the rink.
October: Daily activity. Winter will be on its way, which means it will be a great time to make sure that every day has plenty of activity, in addition to the planned exercise (running and boot camp). I can start evening walks with the family, taking the stairs at work, or other little ways to sneak in movement during the day. Building up the daily activity will help offset any missed workouts once cold and flu season and those dark, dark morning arrive with winter.
November: Measuring portions. This could be done earlier in the year, since it is an important part of the foundation. I expect I’ll be doing some measuring throughout the year as part of tracking, but I figured just before the holidays would be the perfect time to get out the scale and measuring cups and spoons to ensure that my eyes are not bigger than my stomach.
December: Celebrating without excess. I don’t believe in deprivation. I will not be giving up chocolate, or wine, or cheese. But I do need to focus on enjoying these things without going completely overboard and erasing a year’s worth of hard work and dedication. What better time than Christmastime to focus on a healthy enjoyment of the little things in life!
Underscoring all of this is the most important factor for success: positive self talk. I didn’t assign it to a month because I need to actively practice it each and every month. It’s hard to find the right balance within oneself to forgive mistakes while pressing forward. Over the years I’ve oscillated between being overly harsh (What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just do this? You’re disgusting.) and letting myself completely off the hook (Go ahead and eat that whole pizza if it makes you happy. It doesn’t matter. You can start over again later). It takes constant practice to say the things I really need to hear (You can do this. You deserve to be healthy and feel good. Forget about the overindulgence from last night, just don’t stop moving forward. Don’t worry about how you look in a bathing suit right now — do this so you can ride a bike to the market in Nice when you’re 70. You are strong and amazing in so many ways.) Trusting yourself, loving yourself, and knowing you are doing this all for the right reasons are shoes to put on every single day.
One(ish) healthy habit per month. Healthy. Sustainable. And totally achievable.