Forming good habits is hard and it is even harder to consistently stick to them. Whether you’re trying to cut back on sugar, sleep an hour earlier, meditate everyday or anything else, sticking to healthy habits consistently is a challenge. Many times we say we will 100% wake up for that yoga class at 6 am tomorrow. Or, tomorrow is the day we start going for morning walks. You’ve thought about it and made the resolve. But, does that tomorrow come easily? And does it come repeatedly? Fast-forward weeks or months later and it’s still a challenge to wake up early.
In yoga, we often talk of resolve (Sankalpa) which is one’s determination to achieve a goal, while Ayurveda, the Science of Life, looks at it as choosing and repeating certain actions over a period of time. Yoga is a way of life that once we commit to it all good, healthy and positive habits come to us rather easily. Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas are social norms and self-discipline guidelines that help us live a certain way that benefits us in a healthy and wholesome manner.
Ayurveda calls the concept of healthy habits ‘Padmashika Krama’. This concept says an intelligent person should gradually wean himself away from unwholesome/unhealthy practices (to which he is addicted) and adopt wholesome ones in the proper sequence.
According to Ayurveda, the human body and mind are nothing but material bases and they have the ability to change due to various factors. These factors could be repeated actions, influence of those around us (what we commonly call peer pressure), influence of nature (seasonal effects, for example), etc. The best way to maintain some amount of stability and health is by choosing positive actions that are in harmony with our mind and body. There are some traits we are born with which help us form good habits, and some which are acquired through repeated actions or learning.
As per Charaka Samhita, an Ayurvedic text, an individual should gradually wean himself away from unsuitable and unhealthy practices (which are already part of his routine) and adapt wholesome ones in the right sequence. However, the challenge for many of us is in getting started and committing. Let’s look at a few methods and tips to build consistency of healthy habits.
Tips to build consistency of healthy habits
James Clear’s habit stacking method
The popular book, Atomic Habits by James Clear is a Godsend when it comes to learning how to adapt good habits and let go of bad ones. In his book, he talks about habit stacking, a method to remind yourself to perform certain positive habits by placing cues right next to things you won’t miss. Essentially, this method helps you take a habit you already do every day, and pair it with a simple one you want to do every day. For example, if you want to start exercising more, you might want to start moving and warm up while you brush or make your coffee. No matter how busy or stressed we get, most people still brush their teeth at least once a day.
Consistency is key
The more you practice a healthy habit, the easier it gets. For example, taking a shower or brushing your teeth in the morning has been ingrained in us since we were kids. No matter how pressed for time we may be, we will not leave home without this. If you’re trying to take the time to meditate everyday, keep your meditation cushion in plain sight, with a few candles and incense sticks if you like. Carve out a time for it. After a few days, you will automatically know it is time to meditate when you see these cues. Slowly the habit will become easier.
Stop and replace old behaviors
Another helpful way to go about building healthy habits is to firstly recognize what you want to eliminate. Pause and take a few moments to make a note of any habits you want to get rid of. Now make a list of habits you want to inculcate. You can go a step further by planning what time of day you wish to do this, if you need reminders or motivators, if any cues can help you, etc.
Ask a friend or family member to help you stay accountable. You’re more likely to stick to your healthy habit if you have someone checking in on you. For example, if you want to eliminate fried food from your diet, loop in your friend or colleague so they can make sure you don’t end up giving up at lunch time. When you know someone is watching over you, you’re more likely to be accountable.
Make actionable steps
When you make a plan, make small actionable steps to stick to it. Think about what you need to be successful to stick to your healthy habit? Do you need reminders, support? Do you need to eliminate temptations? Think of possible obstacles as well. Keep a record of your progress. Remember to focus on the process and not the outcome.
Be patient with yourself
Don’t be hard on yourself. If you miss a day, continue from the next one. It might be hard, but it is a process. So give yourself time, be patient and do what works for you. Healthy habits take time. Brushing your teeth before bedtime happens seamlessly because of years of repeated behavior.
Make it fun
You shouldn’t end up feeling stressed about trying to build a healthy habit. Make the process fun by asking a friend to join you or starting small and slowly increasing your time.
Know your triggers
If your family, friends or colleagues have different habits from you, know what could trigger a break in your progress. This is more likely to happen with diet changes. If you know something is going to tempt you, be prepared beforehand so you are aware of any action you take.
Everyone’s journey is different. You might find it easier to give up sugar, while your partner might find it easier to stick to the habit of meditating everyday. Don’t compare your journeys or experiences. It might affect your progress. This is especially true when comparing yourself to influencers on social media. Find what works for you and stick to that.
Celebrate your wins
Celebrate your progress and milestones. Maybe you want to give yourself a reward every time you reach a milestone. The more positive reinforcement you add, the more motivated you will be to continue sticking to your healthy habit.
Making healthy choices makes us feel better and live longer. Research shows how you can boost your ability to create and sustain a healthy lifestyle. “It’s frustrating to experience setbacks when you’re trying to make healthy changes and reach a goal,” says NIH behavior change expert Dr. Susan Czajkowski. “The good news is that decades of research show that change is possible, and there are proven strategies you can use to set yourself up for success.”
The habits you build today will impact your health, quality of life and overall well-being in the future. Start small, but start your journey to a healthier and happier future for yourself.