Getting Started – First steps to build a habit
To begin, Psychology has had many models and theories of how people make changes in their lives. One example is the transtheoretical model of health behaviour change. I know certainly, it’s a mouthful, but this is the model we will use going forward.
This approach is a combination of many theories and tells us that change is not one event. it is however a proces which has six stages:
Precontemplation and contemplation – before you build a habit
These are the times before you even plan. For example, when you think about changing something in your life. So, if you are reading this, it is fair to say you have been contemplating. Therefore, we can focus on the four remaining stages, which are preparation, action, maintenance and termination.
The second model we are going to look at is SMART goals. A SMART goal is a way of making a realistic plan. A SMART goal is:
Consequently, by using a couple of different approaches, you can create a strong plan of action.
Let’s get started!
Preparation and Planning
Nothing happens without a good plan and a good plan has a SMART goal.
Your goal most importantly, should be specific. For example, wanting to improve your diet is more of a wish than a goal. Whereas, deciding to get your five – a- day, every day is a specific goal. This is because it is measurable and achievable. It’s relevant because you know how it benefits your life. In addition, setting a deadline gives it a timeline.
As part of your plan, above all, include the following.
• Firstly why you are doing this.
• Secondly, what it is you want to get from it.
• In addition, will you enlist a partner or go at it alone.
• What you will do on those days you don’t feel motivated.
Importantly, this is where you put your plan into action. Firstly, you must test the plan. Suppose your goal is to work out every day. But by the third day you are sore and don’t want to exercise. Rather than give up, change the plan. Alternatively work out every second day and so, you can build up your strength.
In the beginning, your plan should be flexible. For instance, it’s better to work out the kinks at the start rather than jump straight in and burn out. So do what you can, not what you think you should be doing.
If you are struggling, consider bringing a friend in on your plan. An accountability partner can help you stay on track. Furthermore, they are someone to complain to.
Maintenance and Termination
During the first stage, yo made your plan and you have put it into action. After that you are months into this project, and find yourself sick of it. Certainly there’s temptation everywhere and by now, you think it should be automatic. After all, isn’t that what a habit is?
You are correct, because a habit is a behaviour that if repeated enough will become automatic. But you do not yet have a habit because you are still in the change phase. During this stage, you are prone to slips so the model accounts for this. Because as you know, nobody is perfect.
To clarify, this is the hardest part. And it’s also the part most people forget about.
Remember the Plan
Firstly assuming you decide to carry on, what did you plan for in this scenario?
In a previous post we talked about stress reduction and reflective writing. Similarly whether you write it down or not, you need to reflect on how your project has progressed.
What do You Really Want?
As well as that you may need to re-evaluate what it is you want. So try answering these three questions.
• Firstly why did you start?
• Secondly, what have you gotten so far?
• After that, do you want the future benefits?
Subsequently if you want to keep going, great, keep going! You will, however, need to do some things differently. For example, if your goal is exercise-related, try a new workout. If it’s work-related, try working in a new setting. I like writing in cafés when I can’t concentrate at home. It might be a good time to bring along that friend we talked about.
Track Your Habits
Keep track of when you completed your activity with a habit tracker. You can use a notebook, printout or app. Sometimes, when you see how much hard work you have put in, you find it harder to give up.
The final stage in the model is termination. This is when the habit is automatic. Keep in mind, it can take a long time. The psychologists, Wayne Velicer and James Prochaska estimate up to five- years. This seems like a long time and it is, yet people do improve their lives. They give up smoking, eat healthier, and take up exercise, every day.
Forming a habit is a repetitive process. While it may look like going around in circles, change is not linear. If you expect it to be, you will be disappointed.
• Plan smart.
• Put your plan in action mindfully and flexibly.
• Go back to your plan when things get tough and remember why you started.
Finally, and above all, you’ve got this!
About the Author
Shannon Sweeney is a psychology and sociology student from Ireland. She is also living with HS and has a keen interest in lifestyle, wellbeing, and Hidradenitis Suppurativa.