What is the key to achieving long-term success?
American author Robert Collier puts it plain and simple for us: “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.” It’s a gentle reminder that success isn’t an overnight project, but a compounding result of tiny habits done consistently.
More to the point, motivation is merely a force that moves your foot to make the first step toward a certain goal but it’s discipline that keeps you going!
But sustaining a habit, let alone building one, can be a Herculean task. Distractions can put us off easily. The enthusiasm with which we built a certain habit often tapers off after a few weeks. And our patience grows thin when we can’t see progress despite our best efforts.
All these challenges are normal. However, you have to be willing to rough it out to eventually achieve success, whether it be in managing your weight or controlling your diet.
If you want 2021 to be the year you achieve your health goals, here are seven ways you can create a habit and actually stick to it for months (and even years ahead).
1. Start small.
If you aim to make running a regular activity, you’re not going to lace up your running shoes this weekend to join a marathon. If you have a big goal, you need to break it down into increments.
For example, if you want to switch to a kidney-friendly plant-based diet and you’re not that fond of vegetables, try eating one veggie dish a day for three days a week. If your habit is exercising and you haven’t done any physical activity in a while, try walking around your neighborhood daily. Start by walking 10 minutes and add 5 minutes every other day for at least a week. Start small and build on that progress.
Think of your goals as your big picture items that you want to achieve someday and the smaller goals as the concrete steps you need to take to realize your bigger goals.
Breaking your goals into little, more actionable steps make your goals more achievable daily.
2. Do the ‘if-then’ planning.
We’re more likely to stick to habits when we use our existing routines rather than going against them. And performing a habit becomes much easier when there are environmental “triggers” in our routines that remind us it’s time to act on this habit.
This technique involves identifying a regular part of your schedule and attaching a new habit to it. This is called the if-then planning. If-then plans follow the simple formula of “If X happens, then I will do Y.”
- If it is 12 noon, then I will drink my medicines.
- If the afternoon news program comes on, then I will turn off the TV and read a book.
- If my wife returns from work at 5pm, then I will start planning my meals for the week.
A study on the experiences of habit formation confirms the effectiveness of the if-then planning, emphasizing that environmental cues make it easier for people to act on a new habit and even cause instantaneous change in behavior.
Instead of deciding to “avoid refined sugar,” try “If it is time for desserts, then I will only eat fresh fruit slices.”
3. Identify your excuses and address them.
Most of us have excuses that hold us back from achieving progress in pursuing healthy habits. Excuses can be dangerous; they trap us inside our comfort zones and prevent us from enjoying a better, more satisfying life.
You can always choose to stay in the life you’re leading now, or remove your excuses by acknowledging where you are now health-wise and where you want to be in the future.
Regardless of your kidney disease stage, know that you can always live a happy and healthy life even with diminished kidney function. And it starts with building habits that preserve your kidney health.
But before you could get to that, you have to be honest with yourself and confront mindsets and behaviors that are hindering you from building good habits.
Women’s health and wellness writer Krissy Brady shares some ways to help you eliminate your excuses:
- Know your excuses - The excuse you’re using may be hiding the real reason why you can’t make things work. Perhaps it’s a fear of failure, a lack of energy to try new things, a lack of support, or a self-esteem issue.
If you’re uncertain where your excuses are coming from, try to ask yourself: if you were to succeed and achieve the results you want, what’s the worst that could happen? Write down all possible scenarios so you can recognize a theme or pattern. This is the issue you need to address.
- Don’t end your statements with a ‘But…’ - Instead of saying, “I’d really like to, but…” say, “I’d like to.” This helps direct your mind to focus on specific plans you need to make to accomplish your goals.
For example, say “I’d really like to cut back on my fast food consumption, but I live near my favorite fast food chain,” cut yourself and say, “I’d really like to cut back on my fast food consumption.”
- Turn your excuses to cues - When you recognize your excuses, you get to use them to your advantage. See them as signals to an existing problem.
Every time you find yourself conjuring an excuse just before you perform a habit, understand the excuse, trace its cause, and find solutions to address it.
- Trust the process - Perhaps you sincerely want to start doing something. However, there are certain factors in your health, lifestyle, or schedule that keep you from pursuing it.
You want to start hitting the gym but your current fitness level won’t allow you to do high-impact physical activities. Or you want to go all in on your plant-based dieting journey but you don’t have the time and skills to cook your own meals.
In these situations, you’re not making excuses. Rather, you’re assessing the challenges that are in the way of you building new habits. It’s when you don’t come up with ways to go around these challenges that they become excuses.
The key is to turn to a proactive attitude when you’re confronted with roadblocks. By being proactive, you can always think of solutions to reach your goals and have no room for excuses.
Can’t do high-impact exercises? Start with simple exercises like brisk walking, stretching, tai chi, or yoga to strengthen your muscles and improve your flexibility. Not a culinary virtuoso to cook your own meals? There are tons of easy-to-follow recipes and cookbooks on the internet you can use as a guide.
Be creative and resourceful in the pursuit of your goals. Let challenges unlock your creative side and motivate your progress
4. Make habits so easy they’re impossible to fail.
Eliminate all friction points that keep you from successfully carrying out the habit.
If you don’t eat your breakfast because you don’t have time to cook in the morning, prepare it the night before (hello, overnight oats!). If you’re forgetting to log your food intake in your food journal, set reminders on your phone in time for your meals.
Does exercising seem too huge a commitment to make first thing in the morning? Assign it a fixed time like you would an important appointment. The more you enable your habits, the easier it is to do them daily, leaving no room for excuses.
5. Pare down your options.
Did you know that constantly making decisions can deplete your mental energy?
A series of studies on self-control by Kathleen Vos and her colleagues showed that having to make repeated choices -- even mundane ones like choosing what clothes to wear to work or deciding on what to eat -- can diminish your self-control and ability to make smart decisions.
So to make as few decisions as possible, you need to identify those mundane aspects in your life and routinize them. This very well applies in forming good habits and giving up on bad ones.
Avoid buying processed foods if you want to start a whole-food diet. Instead, work with a registered dietitian, plan your meals all throughout the week, and embrace predictability day in and day out. Eliminate salt from your kitchen and replace it with herbs and spices if you want to limit your sodium and potassium intake. This way, you won’t have to expend willpower in the little things.
6. Track your progress.
James Clear, Author of New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, says that tracking your habits is an effective way to sustain them for the long term. It gives you feedback on your performance and tells you whether you’re making progress or if you need to change your approach and direction.
Building sustainable habits is a journey. It takes time before you can see the results you want. As you wait for the long-term gains, the feedback you get from tracking your performance provides you with the motivation you need to keep working through your goals.
Track your habits on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis -- the choice is up to you. Here are some examples of habits you may want to keep tabs on:
- Write down meal logs in a food journal
- Exercise for 30 minutes
- Measure blood pressure
- Take medication
- Test blood sugar
- Buy groceries
- Plan meals for the week
- Do the laundry
- Water the plants
- Tidy up the bedroom
- Pay bills
- Review finances
- Deep clean the house
- Transfer money to savings account
You can also track behaviors that you’re trying to avoid. These can include:
- No alcohol
- No processed foods
- No sugar
- No smoking
- Less complaining
Getting started with habit tracking is easy and straightforward. Simply grab a pen and paper (or your smartphone if you want to go digital) and write your habits down. Record each habit right away after it occurs.
7. Layer it with immediate rewards.
Rewards are the cherry on top of habit formation, and they’re just as important as starting a habit. When you trim your nails, the reward is immediate: tidy nails. But rewards like weight loss or lower creatinine levels take longer to manifest. That’s why it’s important to throw in some instant rewards. They get you excited to form a habit.
Here are some ideas on how to leverage rewards to create habits that stick:
- Listen to podcasts while cooking or walking around the neighborhood
- Plan an exercise date with your spouse or a friend
- Take your favorite dish or dessert and substitute certain ingredients with plant-based alternatives
- Make appetizing vegetarian dishes that the rest of the family can try and enjoy
As James Clear beautifully puts it, a habit is a lifestyle to be lived and not a finish line to be crossed. Keep in mind that you’re about to make tiny yet sustainable changes you can sustain for years down the road. What you decide today will define the trajectory of your health in the future.
Be patient throughout your journey. Respect your pace. Any amount of improvement you make daily will have a huge impact later if you stick with it long enough!
5 Scientific Ways to Build Habits That Stick
7 Ways to Eliminate Your Excuses
How To Use If-Then Planning To Achieve Any Goal
Experiences of Habit Formation: A Qualitative Study
Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: A limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative
Boring Is Productive
The Ultimate Habit Tracker Guide: Why and How to Track Your Habitshttps://jamesclear.com/habit-tracker