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Simple steps to better habit formation

As a health coach, I think and read about habit formation a lot.

It is one of the most curious mysteries of life that we can want something more than anything else in the world (to lose weight, to journal regularly, to control our tempers, to be on time more, to perform regular self-care), and yet our minds and bodies just don’t follow through.

In my own quest to create better habits, here are some of the axioms that have helped me smash my goals.

  • Have a back in the saddle mentality

Fitness and physical activity is a huge part of my life. When I first forayed into the world of regular exercise, I was in the midst of one of the busiest times in my life. Nursing school, babies, and a new job. A turning point for me was realizing that falling off the bandwagon was part of the process, and self-blame and shame does nothing to create better habits.

Cultivating this forward thinking mindset has shifted things for me and propelled me to finally have a consistent exercise practice.

  • You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems

This is a direct quote from James Clear’s Atomic Habits. If you haven’t read the book, read it. Good systems are crucial for good habit formation. It is not cheating to make it easier for yourself to be successful.

Hack the system. Don’t want to look at your phone first thing in the morning? Charge it in another room. Having trouble getting up in the morning to run? Prepare your clothes the night before and leave your shoes at the door. Build systems into your life that make it easier to stick to goals. The Huberman Lab is a great neuroscience podcast that speaks a lot about the science of habit formation.

  • Have a coach/mentor/accountability partner

Recently, a client of mine called me to tell me she was feeling down about gaining 5lbs. I told her to go look in the mirror and tell herself she loves her body and that she is so proud of herself for taking care of it and getting in shape. And then I told her to have a giant bowl of ice cream.

I’m not sure how I feel about that last bit of advice, but the point of the story is the power of having a partner in your journey towards better habits. I run every Sunday (well, most Sundays) with a girlfriend. In addition to making the run more fun, we also encourage each other to get out even when it’s hard.

  • Get clear on why you want to change this habit

Habits become your identity. So if you are pursuing a particular habit, it’s a good idea to really be clear on why you are pursuing it. This habit will eventually help define you as a person, so use journaling or introspection to clarify for yourself what the goal is, and why it’s important.

For example, instead of making your goal - “I want to run a marathon” perhaps shift your mode of thinking to “I am a runner”. Instead of saying “I want to get up early every morning” say “I am an early riser and a go-getter”

Habit formation is hard, but it can be mastered. Incremental changes have huge results. Remember to celebrate your successes and to be compassionate towards yourself when you create new habits


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