Building Healthy Habits – Decide to Stop Deciding

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The main aim of this blog is to share with you all my journey of becoming healthier by losing weight sensibly. A big part of this journey has been building healthier habits into my day-to-day life. One of the things that has helped me most with this aspect of my journey is a book called ‘<a href="http://<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=fatfightingfo-21&marketplace=amazon&region=GB&placement=1444769014&asins=1444769014&linkId=1c6d618cb61639ef446759d6dd055e1d&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066C0&bg_color=FFFFFF"> Better Than Before’ by Gretchen Rubin. I came across this book when listening to Rubin’s podcast Happier and thought it sounded like just the thing I needed to help me to build the healthy habits that I have struggled to get to grips with so far.

In the book, Rubin shares 21 strategies to use for building good habits. Not all of them are applicable to everyone – after all different things work for different people – but I thought I’d share with you some of the strategies that I’ve found work best for me, starting with…

Deciding not to decide

When people are struggling to build a new habit, they often talk about lacking willpower or self-control. Rubin refers to studies showing that when we try to use willpower to resist temptation, we are only successful about 50% of the time. She argues that instead of relying on willpower to help us form new habits, we should instead rely on decision making. Habits don’t require us to make decisions; we just ‘do’ them. For example, we don’t decide to brush our teeth each morning or wear a seatbelt every time we are in a car, we just do those things out of habit. So we should decide that we will adopt a healthy habit, and then stop making decisions about that habit: we’ve already decided we’re going to do it, so we no longer need to keep thinking about whether or not we are going to do it or trying to resist the temptation of not doing it, which requires a lot of willpower.

I’ve used this to good effect in helping me to drop a couple of bad habits and establish a good habit over the last few months. At the school where I work, we’re lucky enough to have a plentiful supply of biscuits and bread and butter for toast in the staffroom. In the past, I have over-indulged in these items or found myself eating them even when I’m not hungry – I find them hard to resist, especially if I’m having a hard day. So, when I went back to school in September, I made the decision that I don’t eat biscuits or toast at work. I’ve found this to be really liberating. No longer am I doing daily battle with my self-control in resisting the temptation to indulge because I’ve already made the decision that I don’t eat those things in that setting.

The habit which this strategy has made the most difference with so far, is exercising regularly. I’ve never been that active. I’ve had many fits and starts of exercising but I’ve always found it difficult to maintain a regular exercise routine for a sustained period. At the beginning of the summer though, I decided that I wanted to give it another go as regular exercise is so important for good health. So I decided that I was going to exercise 3 times a week. End of story. No further decision making required. As with the formation of many habits, at the beginning I was really motivated to keep up with it. As time has progressed though, there have been occasions when I’ve not really fancied going, for a variety of reasons, but when this has happened, rather than getting into an internal dialogue with myself about why I should or should not go, I’ve just reminded myself “You’ve already made the decision: You go to the gym 3 times each week”. No will-power battle required. I’m now 17 weeks in and I haven’t missed a single session. Not even when I’ve been on holiday or away for the weekend. I’m still often surprised that I’ve managed to establish this habit so securely and that it has felt so easy to do so compared to my previous attempts.

There are several other strategies I’ve employed as well to help me form these healthier habits, including the strategies of scheduling, accountability and convenience, but I’ll talk more about these in future posts.

Are you trying to form any healthier habits? How could you use the strategy of deciding not to decide to help you on your way?

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