Self Care Secret #2: Understand the Science of Habit Change

My second secret for really great self care is to understand the scienceof habit change. It has been shown that if we want to see really big changes in our habits, we have to focus on the little ways we live our lives.

In my first secret, I explained how I got hooked on diets early in life. Again, I just loved all that promise of a new life! Instead of actually changing the way I lived, I just fantasized about how much better it would be once I lost 30 lbs. Only it never worked! Diets don’t work. Studies have proven that any change made by using willpower alone does not work. This is because willpower is such an easily exhaustible resource.

Take a look at your own experience. How many New Year’s resolutions have you broken? How many diets have you crashed and burned? And what does it leave you? A greater belief that you don’t really know how to take care of yourself.

What diets (or any resolution based on willpower) do for us is give us a fantasy so we don’t really have to actually change anything in the present moment. But they will never take us to authentic self care or the relationship with our bodies and our lives that we crave. If I could save you one bit of pain, it would be to abandon your diet or your big great resolution right now.

So what does work? I’m so happy to announce that I have found something that is SO FREAKING effective. And it helps me understand why diets and other resolutions didn’t work for me at all. The secret is habit change.

To understand habit change, I want you to think about the many habits that make up your actions throughout the day. You have a habit of starting the coffee when you wake up and brushing your teeth before bed. You have a habit of listening to the news on your way to work and having dessert after dinner. Your habits have a momentum that pulls you through your day. This is great because you don’t have to start from scratch every morning deciding how to spend every moment of your time. That would be exhausting.

Imagine that your habits are a big moving train with a lot of cars that takes you through your days, weeks and years. This train is powered by the momentum of practicing these habits your whole life and probably your parent’s lives as well. So why doesn’t willpower work to make change? Well, asking a big moving train to slam on the brakes and move in another direction quickly is almost impossible. Even if we can get it to stop, it can lead to a big crash.

If we want to change our habits, we have to start small and be consistent.

Our work is to look for the smallest incremental change and take that small change on with commitment. One of the habits that I have worked hard to change is to eat an earlier and lighter dinner. It’s something that I focus on extensively with my clients because it’s one of the best ways to lose weight, sleep better and heal digestion issues. Simply, it’s very hard to digest food later in the evening when our body is not producing bile and we are stationary.

When I learned about this, I was eating my dinner between 7-8pm and sometimes not until 9 or 9:30pm. I now eat my dinner between 4:30-5:30pm, but that didn't happen right away. It took me over a year of moving my dinner back little by little--sometimes just by 15 minutes--until I got to that earlier hour.

As a result, I sleep much better and have really changed the way I approach my meal schedule. Without really trying, I’ve lost 25 pounds, look better, and have a much more comfortable relationship with my body. It’s proof to me that little changes can add up to some really big change. If you find yourself thinking too big, I invite you to embrace a smaller step in the right direction. Even if these changes feel too small, they are working. If you stay committed to them they will create big, big change over time.

So take a moment here and think of a change that feels really big. Look at your sleeping habits. Maybe you are exhausted and want to remember what it feels like to wake up rested? Going to bed by 10pm every night is ideal, but it’s probably not realistic if you go to bed at midnight now. So how about trying 11:30pm for two weeks? And once that works well, try for 11pm. If you keep going slowly and surely, you may get yourself to 10pm without it feeling incredibly difficult. You won’t exhaust your willpower.

The bonus is that you’ll start to build some pretty great self-esteem because all of a sudden you’ve become a person who is actually changing their habits. You’ll see results, feel much better and because it’s so slow and sustainable, you will keep going.

In my group coaching courses and my one-on-one sessions, we work on just on incorporating one new health habit a week. One habit a week! It almost feels like too little, but powerful changes can happen in a few months if you take a week to really focus on something you want to change. Maybe it’s changing your sleep habits or creating a dynamic morning routine. Maybe it's learning to enjoy food on a whole new level while letting go of guilt (and maybe even losing weight in the process).

Whatever the shift, if it's small enough and consistent enough it will change your life over the long run. Suddenly, you're this person who is capable of change. You'll look at yourself differently in the mirror and wonder about your other capabilities.

Next week,  I'll post my third secret for really great self care. Don't miss it. I'll talk you through getting to know this new you and teach you how to avoid the self-sabotage that so often sets you back. This last secret puts everything together.

PS - Where are your habits leading your life?  Tell me and together, we'll figure out how you can take the next small step to greater health. This is life-changing stuff so get ready.