Do something good for yourself, and turn the good things you do for yourself into habits with these little tips.
1. Replace a bad habit with a good one.
This has been such a game-changing strategy for me.
Rather than trying to quit a bad habit cold turkey, which will not only be frustrating and difficult, replace the bad habit with a good one. Make it something enjoyable and a little indulgent (in a healthy way!), so that rather than feeling deprived without giving into that naughty habit, you feel satisfied in some other way.
Every night I ALWAYS had a craving for chocolate. I was like a Pavlovian dog – as soon as I finished my dinner, it was like someone rang a bell and I would suddenly HAVE to have some dark chocolate. 🤤 Like I’d rather let someone punch me in the face than not have that chocolate. But I realized that this habit had given me an out-of-control sweet tooth that made enjoying dessert in moderation just impossible. So I decided I wanted to nix it.
All-out giving up my nighttime treat just never happened. So I decided instead of letting chocolate be my evening ritual, I’d immediately brush my teeth after dinner and get in bed with a cup of tea. Now my evening tea is the comfiest, most indulgent part of my night, my sweet tooth is hugely diminished, and I’m addicted (but to something healthy)!
2. Keep the changes small and progressive.
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with #1. A drastic change is just never sustainable, and when it doesn’t work out because you don’t have superhuman discipline (no one does!), you’re just going to be pissed off and discouraged.
Create good habits in a series of small steps whenever possible, and be patient with yourself! Shifting into a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint.
When I replaced my evening chocolate ritual with a cup of tea, I initially tried to just have a cup of plain chamomile. No cream, no sugar, no honey, no Stevia. And I was the grumpiest tea-drinker ever. Hot, vaguely flowery water was NOT a legitimate substitute for my dark chocolate.
Confession: I freaking LOVE Coffeemate. But I was always determined to give it up because it’s pretty sweet and not exactly clean when it comes to ingredients, I’m sure. Then I noticed something – just a smidge of my favorite hazelnut Coffeemate in my tea and I was good and happy, chocolate was no longer a temptation, and my sweet tooth was still feeling pretty dormant.
Pretty soon I’ll wean myself off the Coffeemate as well, but that’ll be the next step, and for now, I get to enjoy and feel empowered by my first success.
3. Prepare – set yourself up for success.
When building a good habit, specifically something that you can’t break down into a series of progressive steps and small wins, take the time to PREPARE. Literally make your goal as easy as possible, so that you have NOTHING that can pop up and hinder you.
Yes, sometimes consistently preparing is, in itself, a habit you have create for yourself. But typically it’s not a very daunting or time-consuming one, and I know you can do it.
When I no longer had time to get to the gym at my lunch break, I needed to do something I never thought was possible – be a morning person. If I wanted to work out, I needed to be up pretty much at dawn. Which was going to SUCK. I knew there was NO WAY it was going to happen if I could find any excuse, so I started to prepare.
I’d set out my gym clothes the night before (or even sleep in them, honestly), pack my work bag, set out my morning routine junk on the bathroom counter (body spray, hair tie, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.), so that my morning was 100% set up beforehand, built entirely around me getting my ass out the door and to the gym. Make it so easy for yourself you can’t NOT do it.
This is one I’m going to try out literally tonight. I’ve always wanted to get in the habit of flossing my teeth (teeth-flosser sounds almost as ridiculous as morning person in my book). So, to make it as easy as possible for myself, I bought those little individual plastic floss stick things. Know how often I bother to actually open the damn bathroom cabinet and take one out after I brush my teeth? Freaking never. Opening a cabinet is too much trouble for my lazy ass when I’m still half asleep in the morning or ready to jump in bed at night.
Soooo, I’ll make it EVEN EASIER – I’m now going to set out two of the flosser things on my bathroom counter every morning, so that they’re staring me in the face whenever I brush my teeth. If I can’t be bothered to literally just pick one up from the counter while it’s sitting there judging me, then we have serious problems.
4. Commit to the minimum.
This one may not work in every situation, but hear me out: Instead of telling yourself you’re committing to your end-goal, just commit to the minimum amount of effort necessary to move in the right direction. Once you get that mental momentum started, even a little, you may surprise yourself by pushing even further.
This one may be easier to explain with an example:
When I decided I wanted to start working out daily, sometimes I just really didn’t feel up to it. Sometimes I still don’t! So rather than saying “I’m going to work out every day, rain or shine, sleepy or energetic”, my goal has always been this: “I’m going to drive myself to the gym, and if I really don’t feel up to working out, I give myself permission to go home.”
Maybe once, when I really was feeling totally crummy, did I drive myself to the gym, and then drove back home. You know what happened 99.9% of the time? I got out of my car, walked into the gym, and killed my workout. Mentally I could handle “drive five minutes to the gym”, even on days when “work out today” didn’t sound too fantastic first thing in the morning.
5. Understand that flat-out discipline is necessary.
Time for a little tough love.
The tips above are just little ways I’ve made building positive habits somewhat easier for myself, but discipline is still absolutely mandatory. There is no tip, no hack, for replacing self-discipline. No fitness competitor, no one who quit smoking or gave up caffeine, ever did so without just resolving to be disciplined. Sometimes it just comes down to forcing yourself to say “no” to a whole slice of cake at a birthday party, or spending less time with friends who might encourage you to drink too much, or facing some extra sleepy mornings because you’re keeping it to one cup of coffee instead of two.
The upside is this: discipline is simple. If you want your goals badly enough to stay motivated, you won’t even have to look for it. Once you find your motivation and decide that your habits are aligned with your goals, discipline will already be there waiting to prop you up and lead you to your success. Done.