“So, you are planning on being miserable?”
This is what I asked my client, who looked confused at first, but then cracked up at the thought.
“Well no, I don’t want to plan to be miserable,” she said.
This exchange took place after she told me how she always feels sad in the dark, winter months, and she anticipated this year to be much worse due to the pandemic.
“Alrighty then,” I said. “How about we put a plan in place to get ahead of your winter blues this year?” She thought that was a splendid idea.
I explained to this client that if she has struggled in the past to feel motivated in the long, cold months of winter, then the concept of developing some positive habits in advance just makes sense.
Often, the initial effort of doing the things that would help us to feel better, like getting up on time, exercising, or getting some fresh air, can be the hardest part. That’s why establishing positive habits when you are feeling inspired is so critical. Eventually, the habit makes the starting process automatic.
Two of my favorite books about habit formation are “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. In each of these books, the authors talk about the concept of identity, because how we view ourselves influences our ability to develop better habits.
Research shows that we tend to believe what we hear ourselves say. And so, if my client identifies herself as someone who is “miserable in the winter”, then creating habits to feel better in the dark months can be a challenge.
Therefore, the very first step in making a change is to pay attention to how we are describing ourselves, and make sure it’s in a way that supports the habits we want to develop. Even a subtle change like, “I am someone who sticks to my commitments” can influence our actions in an immensely powerful way.
Secondly, both authors emphasize the importance of convenience when developing a new habit. Make it easy to succeed and difficult to go astray.
For instance, if your goal is to eat healthier, make sure you have tasty, nutritional foods on hand, prepped and ready to devour, and keep unhealthy foods out of the house. Sounds simple but making things convenient can be a game-changer.
Finally, both authors write about linking two behaviors together as a highly effective habit-forming strategy, but in slightly different ways.
Gretchen Rubin writes about the strategy of pairing. This is when you couple two activities, one that you need or want to do, and the other one that you don’t particularly want to do, to get yourself to accomplish both.
Here are a few examples:
- If you like to socialize, chat on the phone, and catch up with a friend while taking a morning walk.
- Do ten push-ups while waiting for the shower to warm up.
- Sing and dance to your favorite upbeat songs after dinner as you do the dishes.
- Fold and put away laundry during the commercial breaks while watching your favorite show in the evening.
And James Cleary refers to something similar called habit stacking. This is when you find a habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top of it. In this way, your current habit becomes the trigger for your new one.
Here are a few examples:
- As you sip your morning coffee, write out your three priorities for the day.
- When your water bottle is half empty, fill it back up.
- Take three deep breaths as you wash your hands.
- As you brush your teeth before bed, think about what you are most grateful for from the day.
As you can see, developing some new positive habits to help you stay on track during the winter months isn’t as difficult as you might have imagined. You just need to put a little thought into it and set yourself up for success.
What new habit(s) are you ready to establish now to keep you feeling healthier and more focused during the winter months?
Message me and tell me what you’ve got in mind! I’d love to hear from you.