The Oxford dictionary defines a habit as, “A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” That seems reasonable to me. Habits are often formed without our conscious decision. Any behavior that we do every day or regularly in certain situations, becomes a habit. The good news is that we can choose to change our habits and create new ones. We can choose to build habits that benefit us, improve our health, and enable us to live happier lives.

Changing Habits

There has been a lot of research on the length of time it takes to create or change a habit. Researchers do not agree on exactly how long that is! Some will say it takes just 21 days to create a new habit, others argue that it might take up to 8 months. Whether it takes just 3 weeks or much longer the decision to take control and make a change is where it starts. The decision to make a purposeful change in your life is the first step. It is not easy to change behavior that has been ingrained as a habit. It takes diligence and thought and consistent action. The rewards can be beyond our expectations.

Steps to Change

Once the decision is made, it helps to share your decision with friends and family. Let them know what your plans are and allow them to help you and keep you accountable. To really change a habit means no exceptions to the new behavior. NONE! The minute you smoke just that one cigarette, you are right back at the old habit you are trying to change. Remind yourself of the benefits of the new habit – you are going to get fit, or feel better with the weight loss, or start every day on a positive note. Create positive thoughts or affirmations around the new habit. Reinforce why you decided to change and how much better your life will be with the change. Persistence and practice will result in forming the new habit. Reward yourself as the new habit takes form and becomes a behavior that you don’t have to consciously think about.

Starting and Finishing Your Day

Build a habit of getting up just 30 minutes earlier than necessary and take that time to consciously start your day with meditation, music, affirmations or just quiet time. Something that will allow you to set the tone for your day. Equally important is the end of your day. Allow yourself time as you prepare to sleep for some reading, quiet conversation with your partner or music. Quiet your mind and set the stage for a restful and regenerating night of sleep. Think of five things that you are grateful for just before sleep. Then drift off with these positive thoughts.

Exercise is Essential for Good Health

We all know this, but many of us ignore it. We think we are too busy or too heavy or too out of shape. Those are excuses. Can’t afford a gym membership? Don’t need one! The easiest and least expensive form of exercise is just walking. The only equipment you need is a comfortable pair of shoes. Walk half way up the block, around the block, work up to two blocks. Do it EVERY day – rain or shine – and build a habit. Walk inside a shopping mall in the rain or snow if you must but leave your wallet at home! Eventually you will experience the benefits and want to do more.

What We Eat Fuels Our Body

Good nutrition is an absolute basic for good health. In today’s world of fast paced life and fast food, it can get lost or forgotten. Small changes and new eating habits will dramatically impact our energy levels, our sleep, our clarity of thought, our weight and how we feel about ourselves. Changing our nutrition and what we eat can be difficult and requires conscious decisions throughout the day. Start small. Take sugar out of your diet. Take gluten out of your diet. Go to the library and borrow a book on nutrition. Take a bag lunch to work. Spend an afternoon on the weekend cooking healthy meals and put them in the freezer to pull out after work when you come home tired and hungry.

Feed Your Mind

Decide to learn something new. Read books that motivate you or stimulate your thinking. Learn a new language. Take a class and learn something that you have always been curious about. If you are not a reader, there are many options today including Ted Talks on YouTube and audio books. There are many ways to improve your thinking, your relationships and your outlook on life.

Stick to Your Decision

Focus on one new habit at a time. What is most important to you? Weight loss? Feeling better? Having more energy? Giving up coffee? Getting more sleep? You can’t change your entire life in a month. Stay the course. Start small and be consistent. The benefits will appear!

Small daily changes will make a massive difference over time. Be patient. Be persistent. You will reap the rewards.