We all have to start somewhere. It's Day One, what do you do? While having wild ambition is great to initiate change the real work is a bit mundane and starts in your brain. Why? Because the brain naturally is built to conserve energy and resources. How do we do this?
Habits! Yes good and bad these develop over time and repetition. The good news is in knowing this one thing, old habit patterns can be broken, and new habit patterns can be established. In fact habit is quite powerful, once a habit is set your brain no longer has to utilize so many resources to complete it. In fact the habit becomes almost automatic, which means easy to your brain (and don't we all want easy automatic good habits?).
How long does this actually take? While the general consensus often states 21 days there is evidence that that is just the beginning of the habit taking hold, really it is somewhere around two months before a habit goes into the realm of actual habit, where it almost automatic. Sometimes it's longer, patience with yourself is key, don't punish yourself if you mess up, just start again, or keep going, move past the mistake instead of focusing on it.
In the Fitness and Nutrition areas of your life this explains why it's easy to start off so motivated only to lose your momentum a week or two later. One of the other reasons is that your ambitions maybe too ambitious. Or you may be trying to change too many habits at once. Remember your brain wants it to be easy. And if you are depleted in any way (tired, hungry, sick, dehydrated, etc.) it is even harder, (so please take care of yourselves).
How do we step past these barriers to bring the creation of good habits into our Fitness and Nutrition (or any other areas). We can easily see that attempting to "overwrite" a bad habit with a good habit is destined to be a rough road, who hasn't tried this and failed, (all hands up). Good for you if you have tried and failed though, that failure is evidence that you at least know what you want, and where you want to change. Bad habits become "easy" to your brain, which is why they are so hard to break, they have to come back into the realm of not being automatic and you being more conscious of them to get the job done and erase them.
While there are many approaches to the how's of change, lets focus on the why's that will get you there.
First instead of trying to swap a bad habit with a good one, just work on "deleting" the bad habit. Why? Because trying to replace one thing with another takes extra work, first you have to resist the old habit, while trying to instill the new habit will have your brain on double duty, which also means mental resource depletion, which means less cognitive ability to uphold your inhibitions and maintain your ambitions. That works against your ability to form a new positive habit (and is stressful).
When you have sufficiently "deleted" or weakened the bad habit there is then space for you to apply learning a new good habit. A kind of "blank slate". With this space you can add in your new habit using the three "R's". These are:
1. Reminder- Why? To bring the habit into full conscious awareness while instilling helps to keep us on track. The trigger that initiates the action you desire. It can be as simple as using the alarms and notifications on your phone. But it is at times simpler to use anchoring, which means attaching the trigger to something you already do (easy). For example if you want to drink more water you can keep a glass of water next to your bed and anchor the drinking of said water to waking up in the morning, pretty soon you will awaken to drinking a whole glass of water before you start your day (a great start to staying hydrated).
2. Routine- Why? Because this is the actual action we wish to create, and we have to practice it over and over as a response to the initiation (reminder) trigger. Following a previously established set of actions at the response over and over to the trigger will move (slowly) the action from having to be constantly aware of it into the easier realm of habit and not having to think about it so much.
3. Reward. Why? Well, this is the feeling of accomplishment you get when you complete your desired action. The reward instills the action with positive chemicals in your mind making it more likely you will remember and complete the action again, because brains love rewards and the feeling that go with it. Now you could actually reward yourself with something (but watch out about what kind of reward you give yourself, make sure it aligns well with the habit you are trying to create, and does not create a bad habit in and of itself, i.e. rewarding yourself with cookies for eating a good breakfast. Instead you could reward yourself with a new cooking utensil (or something else that helps you to maintain your good habit). Or just give yourself some extra "me" time sometime in the day, you can probably afford 5 or 10 mins for yourself somewhere in your day. Sometimes just a simple "Good Job! Go Me!" works just as well.
The fourth "R" is repeat (yes technically there are only three "R's").
When choosing the habit to create, remember life goals are not habits. Break your goal into little objectives that form your goal, those little pieces, they are your habits, all together they form your goal. And when it comes to Fitness or Nutrition goals, we can help you break those down into obtainable pieces, that's what good coaches are for.
For further reading check out these articles on building/breaking habits: