This morning I was woken up at 4.45am to the distinctive sound of a terrorized small creature in the house somewhere. Bleary-eyed my husband and I went on the search and together we found our cat unmercifully poking a frog in the sitting room. Swiftly picking up said frog with a wet tea-towel, while my husband escorted our purring cat out of the room, I found myself wandering around the back garden trying to decide under which shrub was the best place to release the poor creature. Froggy hopped off unceremoniously into the undergrowth and I stumbled back to bed, although sadly not to sleep. 45 minutes later I decided to get up and do my daily yoga practice while our daughter was still asleep, an important ritual that I have started dedicating time for myself on a daily basis. It is one of the few times of my day that I am with myself in the quiet. My time on my mat has become one of the highlights of my day, even at 5.30am!
Creating a routine and turning something into a daily habit, as well as something that feels missing if we do not include it in our day, takes time and commitment. Change in the form of daily yoga, learning a new skill or retraining ourselves to eat more healthily takes dedication but, before long, what once seemed insurmountable can become part of our everyday. Having a goal, taking small steps and keeping on putting one foot in front of the other is how change happens. Persistence and reminding ourselves why we want change are also key.
A good tip is to start with just one thing that we want to change – recently for me it was introducing a daily but manageable at-home yoga practice into my morning routine. Having started many at-home practices over the years, for them to fizzle out within a few days, I decided that this time I would do things differently. Being very short on time looking after a toddler, I decided that it was unrealistic to have the goal of getting to a class even a few times a week. Thinking about it differently this time, I discovered that there are online classes and whole websites dedicated to building a home practice, a perfect solution for my situation at the moment.
Three months later I am still practicing daily, mainly for half an hour, sometimes shorter and sometimes for longer if I have the time. In many ways the length of time doesn’t matter, it is the process of commitment to ourselves and showing up each day that is key. That’s not to say that I can take my eye of the ball and become complacent about it, something like yoga or healthy eating is only ever rented and never owned, each day we have to reaffirm our commitment and practise.
Older research from the 1960s suggested that it only took 21 days to form a new habit, however, that has been more recently revised by a study carried out in 20091 where the average time taken for a habit to become ingrained in the participants’ daily routine turned out to be 66 days. With this in mind, it is important to remember that perseverance for those first two months is key; try not to overthink things and accept that sometimes we may have to force ourselves to keep going, even if we don’t feel like heading to the gym after work or swapping that glass of wine for a glass of water! But keep at it and if we do miss a day then get right back on it and carry on without feeling as though we failed. In the immortal words of Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day!”
So what change are you going to start with? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of change and not knowing where to start. It you want to improve your diet then take it one step at a time or even one meal at a time; may I suggest introducing a healthier alternative to breakfast? Rather than always reaching for the obligatory (and very habitual) toast or breakfast cereals, try nutritious and delicious breakfast smoothies, bursting with fruits, vegetables, protein and healthy fats, or simple overnight oats and chia seeds topped with fruits and pumpkin seeds. However, if there is a bit more time then scrambled eggs with wilted spinach, roasted tomatoes and smashed avocado on gluten-free toast is always a good option and adding some smoked salmon makes it into a very special weekend brunch.
Just as Froggy had an unexpected reprieve, I imagine him hopping off delirious with the joy of being alive and a commitment to living every day to the full, maybe we should follow his example and start living fully today! Let’s make a commitment to ourselves and keep on putting one foot in front of the other, before we know it two months will have passed, it will have become habit and, who knows, we too may feel delirious about life!
Lally P et al. (2010) How are habits formed: modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40: 998-1009.