074 588 3808 rdpearman@gmail.com

How to Build Better Habits in Times of Uncertainty

Chad Prinsloo | Web Designer

Robbie Pearman  |  Counselling Psychologist

January 18 2021

Many people struggle to develop and maintain healthy habits and there can be few harder habits to master than that of healthy eating and regular exercise. I work with individuals who want to get back (and stay) on the path towards the vision they once had for themselves as healthy individuals. When it comes to weight loss habits (or any habits) you want to establish some key concepts to consider are the following:

Focus On Environment Over Motivation

Motivation is a fickle thing that can fluctuate greatly over time and it’s incredibly difficult to control. If high motivation is required for us to make the changes to our lives and maintain healthy habits, then we are likely to struggle to consistently perform those healthy actions. Our environment is different. We have much more control over the physical environment we live in or spend time in. It is also a powerful mechanism for building better habits and maintaining them. Being deliberate about how we arrange our environment can therefore keep us on track long after our motivation has deserted us. For example, if you want to build healthy eating habits, you can start by filling your fridge with healthy foods and getting rid of all the fast-food takeout menus in your home. You can also design your own menu of healthy foods and what ingredients you need to buy from the shops on a weekly basis in order to stick to your habit.

Start Small and Build From There

Many New Year’s resolutions or similar moments of inspiration that propel us into action resulting in a dramatic change to our day-to-day living. These feel amazing at the time and we are excited about the future. We see this portrayed when we visit the gym in January and we struggle to find a parking bay let alone a treadmill as everyone is riding high on motivation. Come March, there is plenty of parking and your choice of treadmills available. This is often because people go from a sedentary lifestyle to a 6 day a week intensive gym program, for example. They may have also possibly invested heavily in a variety of supplementation or a personal trainer. Before very long the thought of “can I keep this up?” enters our thinking, and at that point the writing is probably on the wall. Unfortunately, few people take the smarter decision to introduce 1 or 2 days of light exercise a week, ingrain it into their weekly schedule, and then gradually add more exercise into their weekly activity from there.

Similarly, when deciding to embark on a new diet, we all of a sudden go from a typical sugar-rich, high carb diet, to a high protein only or vegan-based diet seemingly overnight. This requires a huge mental and physiological adjustment and is a sacrifice that is difficult for many to maintain.

Research has shown that habits that stick are made through small, incremental changes that are made over time, not from drastic, wholesale changes made overnight. From small manageable changes can come a gradual increase in confidence in one’s ability to sustain these changes, and from this can come BIG change!

Here is a great video explaining this concept in more detail.

Don’t Take on Too Many Habit Changes at the Same Time

If we want to keep things simple in the beginning by focusing on small changes first, we equally should focus just a few habit changes at a time. Some habits go hand-in-hand, like eating healthier and doing more exercise, so it might make sense to start with, for example, taking 1 spoon less of sugar in our tea or coffee, and trying to up our steps per day by 100 (or less!). But if we take on too many habit changes, we can fall into the same trap as when we try to make the magnitude of those changes too big.

Set a Goal

The last thing to mention here is to set a goal for yourself. It is important to write it down. No matter how small you start out (the smaller the better!), decide what your end-point will be. The above recommendations provide a process to get you there – but you need to decide where there is. Focusing on the daily incremental improvements, whilst from time to time remembering why you are doing it and where you hope to be in the longer term, can be very powerful indeed.

I’m a Counselling Psychologist situated in Blairgowrie, near the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, such as Rosebank and Sandton.

I work with individuals, couples, families, and small groups to address current challenges with a solution-focused approach. These challenges may include some more common complaints such as depression, and anxiety, or those trying to come to terms with trauma or bereavement.

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