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5 Steps to Starting a Habit…and Actually Sticking to it!

What’s one health or fitness goal you’ve been putting off doing or can’t seem to make a habit of?

You know what you need to do to improve your mood, increase your energy and feel good about yourself. But why aren’t you doing it?

Setting goals is easy. However, starting new habits that lead to that goal can be difficult because it requires behaviour change.

Although we may know what to do and how to do it, in our minds, we perceive change as “danger” and resist it.

But there is GOOD news.

There are reliable behaviour change strategies that make it easier to start and stick to good habits so you actually reach your goals.

In goal setting, SMART is an acronym commonly cited to help us remember the crucial details to include when writing a goal. However, we often set the goal but then overlook the plan to get to that goal.

The plan is essential because it shows the steps we need to take to stay on track and move closer to our desired outcome. These steps are the consistent behaviours we call habits.

That’s why I’ve adapted the SMART Acronym to create a 5-step SMART Plan to help you develop daily habits that move you towards your SMART goal.

SMART goals show you how to set a goal. This article will show you a SMART Plan to get to that goal.

To create your SMART Plan, take that health or fitness goal you have been putting off and:

  1. Schedule it

  2. Monitor it

  3. Action it

  4. Reward it and

  5. Time it

Step 1 Schedule it

“The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” ~ Stephen Covey

It’s a busy world out there – especially for mums or dads working hard to build successful careers and wanting to raise happy families.

There are 24 hours in a day, but you’re one person with more demands on your attention than hours in any given day. With multiple competing interests and limited time, even important things won’t get done unless you schedule them.

Make your goal a priority and schedule it.

If you’re trying to create daily habits, choose the most convenient time each day for the next seven days. Write it on your calendar and set a daily alarm reminder 5-10 minutes before the time you’ve scheduled to do it.

Step 2 Monitor it

“Progress over perfection.”

By regularly monitoring your progress, you will know whether you’re moving closer or further away from your goal.

You’ll be able to identify problems early and make minor corrections to quickly get back on track without breaking into much of a sweat.

On the other hand, if you don’t monitor your progress, you risk turning what could have been cool, calm, breezy success into a tornado of turmoil. Unmonitored, a small issue can grow into a big problem and have you hitting the panic button instead of hitting your goals.

The simplest way to track your habit progress is to tick it off your calendar or habit chart physically.

Step 3 Action it

“The distance between your dreams and reality is action.” ~ unknown.

You’ve created a plan when you set a goal and schedule it.

But if you have a great plan and don’t take action, will you reach your goal?

Sometimes, what we’re trying to achieve appears so big that we feel overwhelmed and freeze in our tracks.

The secret to taking action is to break down the bigger goal into smaller steps.

Ask yourself:

“What is ONE action I can take NEXT to step closer to my goal?”

Then take that action IMMEDIATELY!

Small steps are easier to take. Immediate action creates momentum.

Say, for example, you want to begin taking a brisk 30-minute walk in the mornings before work. The next small action you could take immediately is to lay out your workout clothes where you can see them first thing in the morning.

Step 4 Reward it

A big win is simply a series of tiny wins.

Let’s admit it, starting and maintaining a good habit can be a struggle. But it’s not your fault. Most of the world around us is designed for instant gratification, not the long game of patience.

One trick to making a good habit stick is to reward yourself. Rewards make it easier to do hard things because they help you feel good about your achievement. The prize for your efforts is re-energising and reignites your desire to perform that task again. Rewards also improve self-control.

This neat trick is handy for those challenging habits like eating healthy, exercising regularly, managing your emotions, or saving money. The key is to reward yourself immediately after completing your routine, so you associate doing the task with the pleasure of the reward rather than the “pain” of the process.

Rewards are a satisfying way to sweeten an “ordeal”. However, many of us are more inclined to resort to sweet treats or alcoholic drinks to seal the deal.

The secret to rewarding yourself without gaining weight or developing a drinking problem is not limiting treats to your sense of taste. Instead, explore using your other senses to seek pleasure through sight, smell, hearing, and touch.

Sensational EXAMPLES (outside of taste) include:

  • Scrolling through a beautiful social media feed (for <5 minutes),

  • Aromatherapy

  • Listening and dancing to your favourite song

  • Hugging your child

  • Giving yourself a facial

Even something as simple as ticking off the completed habit on your chart or calendar is rewarding and useful for monitoring (step 2).

Step 5 Time it

We all have 24 hours in a day.

Set a time limit to perform your habit.

This goal-oriented time-management strategy is called timeboxing.

Timeboxing makes it easier to get over the hurdle of getting started and can help you set more realistic timeframes to complete similar tasks. Because of the time constraints, you’re also more likely to stay focused and avoid time-wasting distractions, e.g., checking phone messages or screen notifications.

Without time boundaries, you run the risk of falling into the clutches of Parkinson’s Law, which states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

The reverse is also true, as shown by Horstman’s Corollary to Parkinson’s Law which says: “Work contracts to fit into the time we give it.” So, by using timeboxing, you are more likely to get a lot more done in less time.

Decide on the time it will take you to complete the task or habit. Then use a timer during your scheduled habit session to avoid going over the minutes you set aside. Depending on the habit, you can gradually build upon that time by a few minutes each week until you reach your target habit time.

So, are you ready to step into your future self and start celebrating your happier, healthier lifestyle?

Starting a good habit or changing old behaviours can be challenging.

Using this plan makes you more likely to start and stick to your new habit.

To create your SMART Plan, take your goal and in 5 simple steps, schedule, monitor, action, reward, and time it.

Download your free Habit Guide, which includes this 5-Step SMART Plan & a printable 35-Day Habit Planner.

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