Make Consistency King
Creating new habits can seem like an overwhelming process. Negative outcomes from bad habits create an intense desire to “right the ship” as fast as possible, which can fuel extreme behavior-change attempts at or around the New Year. Unfortunately, most people aren’t ready for the high magnitude of life disruption that may result. Within a short period of time, this disruption can become too great, derailing the best intentions for change.
Habits, good or bad, are formed through consistent practice over a long period of time. In fact, they become habits because we practice them so much, which makes them automatic and unconscious. This amount of practice cannot happen overnight, regardless of how hard one tries.
This year, instead of establishing unrealistic, highly disruptive New Year’s resolutions, consider a few small components of a larger goal that could be easily integrated and performed in daily life. Start with some simple tasks—such as drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning or leaving your phone in another room to charge while you sleep—and focus daily on consistently performing these simple tasks. As these small, positive habits become established, slowly introduce additional components, always moving toward the larger goal.
Much like the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, “slow and steady wins the race” when it comes to positive behavior change.
The sights and sounds of modern life (e.g., social media and cell phones) can create a state of constant distraction and perhaps even stress and anxiety. The antidote to this modern situation is found in the mindful, focused, deep-breathing practice of meditation. Contrary to popular belief, one doesn’t have to retreat to the Himalayas and become a silent monk to reap the benefits of regular meditation. By being mindful of the rate and depth of your breathing for a few minutes, your brain receives a calming signal. This helps quiet anxiety while enabling higher-level thought processes to become more prominent.
Meditation is becoming a power habit of high performers in sports, the corporate world, and everyday life because of its ability to decrease the negative impacts of stress and improve overall focus.
Try the following practice for 60 seconds:
- Get comfortable while seated, standing, or lying down.
- Close your eyes and let your body relax.
- Begin breathing in through your nose by expanding your belly. Try not to let the shoulders elevate.
- Listen for the air coming in and out through your nose.
- Allow thoughts to enter your mind, but don’t “attach” or entertain these thoughts. Let them pass.
- Continue for 60 seconds.
Sleep is a time to recover from the mental, physical and emotional demands of the day. A common recommendation is to get a minimum of seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night for optimal performance, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of every three people don’t achieve this goal. It appears that with less sleep, people experience a decrease in performance and an increase in morbidity and mortality.
From a day-to-day standpoint, lack of sleep can impair coordination and short-term memory while increasing the negative impact of stress. Building habits around getting a better quantity and quality of sleep can pay dividends in multiple aspects of life.
Below is a list of both good and bad sleep-related habits. Adopt one or more of the good habits, while focusing on eliminating one or more of the bad habits.
Good Sleep Habits:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each night.
- Exercise daily.
- Make the room as dark as possible.
- Avoid alcohol or nicotine consumption immediately before bed.
- Take a 20-minute power nap during the day.
- Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom.
- Meditate prior to going to bed.
Poor Sleep Habits:
- Checking phones and other devices from bed (both the blue light emitted and the arousing emotional reaction resulting from this practice may interfere with sleep).
- Eating immediately prior to sleep.
- Watching television or other screens before bed (screen time often competes with sleep time).
- Consuming caffeine late in the day.
- Having undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea (snoring).
While there is no magic pill for quality and quantity of sleep, adopting the above “good” habits and minimizing the “bad” increases the likelihood that sleep will be a help, not a hindrance to changing your life for the better.
Make these three power habits a way to celebrate improved health as you welcome the challenges and opportunities of the New Year.