Making Health Habitual for Nurses

Tooth Flossing

How are you doing sticking to your New Year’s self-improvement goals? According to a new book about American self-help, Promise Land, 45% of us set well-intentioned goals in January. Then all too quickly we abandon them. (Even modest goals, such as flossing regularly.) In fact, January 17th has come to be called “Ditch Your New Year’s Resolution Day,” because that’s as long as most folks hold on.

If you haven’t given up on your goals yet, you have a good chance of being one of the lucky 8% of goal setters who succeed. There’s research that shows that it takes on average 66 days to make new habits so, well, habitual, that you don’t have to exercise willpower. (Scientist Phillipa Lally and team at University College London did the research.)

Here are some ideas about how to make sure your diet, exercise, stress-relief, or other health-related resolutions becomes effortless:

Focus on teeny tiny goals.

Big, audacious, spectacularly ambitious goals are tempting but if you attempt them you’re more likely to crash and burn out. Go for “drop 5 pounds” even if eventually you’d like to lose 15 total.

Pick a goal that is truly your own.

Maybe you like your body as-is, even though the stars on TV look nothing like you. Don’t set a goal to join a gym and get buff, then. You won’t be motivated to lift weights or do squats often enough to make a difference. You’re more likely to become one of the folks who pay a monthly fee but haven’t been inside the gym since their introductory session.

Repetition is the key.

When acquiring a new habit, such as flossing each night, it’s best to start with a ridiculously small action, such as flossing one tooth, and the next night, two teeth, and so on. That way you have no reason to skip a day, and then another, and well, you know what happens then. A break of more than a few days is enough to kill any habit forming mojo if effect.

Why does starting small and making micro-movements towards a goal work? Logistically, by starting small you can take the time to go gather supplies, figure out where to store them, get the hang of using them, etc. Example: Running shoes.

Psychologically, big goals may threaten your subconscious, and so resistance builds up. Small goals are more likely to go unnoticed by the inner-mind.

Neuroscience suggests that it takes time for new neural pathways to develop. Have you even moved a piece of furniture yet find yourself walking "around it" because your body is habituated to cruising a certain way? Ditto for new health behaviors. 

 What’s working for you in making health habitual? Let us know!

Jebra Turner is a health writer in Portland, Oregon. You can visit her online at www.jebra.com

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Health is wealth and making it habbit is something that you can be proud of above else. - Lindsay Rosenwald