Tips for starting something new (and making it stick)

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Starting something new can be both exciting and fear-inducing. It can be a complex mix of what could be and a fear of failure that can make new endeavours a challenge. This is true for lots of different things: from starting a new exercise routine, diet or post-op rehab journey.

Here’s some tips on how to make new habits stick…

Set a meaningful goal

Attaching the new habit to something bigger can help anchor it and make you less prone to give up when the going gets tough. We often don’t go deep enough when setting new goals, which makes us more likely to throw in the towel. Asking yourself a series of “why’s” can help develop a deeper and more meaningful goal.

Here’s an example:

“I want to start exercising”

Why?

To lose weight and get stronger.

Why?

So I can be healthier.

Why?

So that I can be an active and engaged father for my kids and family.

Now the simple goal of “start exercising” is linked to something deeper – related to identity “be an active and engaged dad”.

Write it down

The act of writing down your goal increases your chance of achieving it by about 30%! There’s something about the physical act of writing down a goal that makes it more solid and real. Better yet – share your goal with someone you trust and will help keep you honest.

Attach the new activity to an existing habit: develop a cue

New habits are sustained by a habit loops. This is the process of: the cue (something that triggers the action) – the habit (the new activity) – the reward (the pay off).

Developing a cue that lasts can be done by attaching the new habit to an existing one. This is called “habit stacking” – and its a good way to form a new behaviour by using the cue of an already existing habit. It means there’s less thinking required and automates the process.

So implementing a new running habit can be made easier and more successful long term by doing it directly after an existing habit.

For example lacing up your running shoes straight after you brush you teeth in the morning. You already brush your teeth so now that cue serves as your trigger to go for a run.

Develop a reward

Our behaviours are largely driven by whether or not we activate reward centres in our brains. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (chemical) in the brain that drives behaviour through releasing pleasurable response to a stimulus. For example the feeling of clean teeth after brushing them or the satisfaction of crossing off something on your to-do list.

Establishing a clear reward linked to the new habit is key to making the habit stick long term. For example allowing yourself to listen to your favourite audio-book only when you run or taking 10 minutes after the run to meditate and focus on how your breath feels. Rewards are as varied as the individual – they need to be genuinely rewarding for you.

Celebrate the wins

Taking time to reflect and mark the progress made can help give perspective on how far you’ve come. It’s a great way to build confidence and stay focused. This can sometimes mean an update of the goal or habit to something bigger or reclaiming why you’re doing what you’re doing.

All the best in starting something new and making it stick!

Winston Hills | Physiotherapy | Clinical Pilates

Tim Cathers

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