Developing new, healthy habits can be hard. For those going through recovery, it’s critically important to understand how habits are formed and how you can build new ones. It may seem strange for people with an addictive personality to have difficulty creating healthy habits, but they’re different as, quite often, healthy habits won’t have the immediate “high” one might have experiences during their addiction. Even though exercise has been shown to help the recovery process by sending out similar “happy” chemicals to the brain, it can take time to develop that exercise habit.
So, let’s go into how you can transform your habits and actually make them stick.
Recognize your old identity
Recognizing who you are now is critically important. Something I’ve learned before starting to form any new habit is to first be grateful for who I am today, even if it’s not who I want to be. As a person in recovery, I’m grateful that my body has learned to survive under incredibly stressful conditions. If I think about it, I’m amazed that I’m alive today considering all the drugs I’ve put into my body. The fact is that your old identity will always be a part of who you are, and you can choose to either hide it or use it to empower yourself. So, take some time and think about who you are, what you’ve accomplished, the storms you’ve embraced, and be grateful that you’re now at a place where you can take on something new and grow.
Think about your new identity
Really spend some time and envision who you want to be, what your new identity will be. To make habits really stick, you need to start believing new things about yourself. Think about the goal you have in mind and then think about the type of person who obtains that goal. This can be hard, but try and think of the identity with the smallest, most viable first step. For example, let’s say your goal is to lose weight. Great! However, as many of us know, that goal may fizzle out. Think about a person who is fit and what they do, in the smallest measurable way possible. That person probably does something active everyday, it may not be “balls to the wall” cross fit style workouts, but they’re hardly sedentary. So, a small win for your new identity would be to become the type of person who simply moves more every day.
Tie your new habit to something you already do consistently
So, you have your identity in mind… now it’s time for action. Tie your identity to something you already do everyday. Think about your typical day and things you consistently do without fail. Try and find a place within the parameters of what already works for you. The easiest thing you do without fail is waking up. Can you carve out some time for your new habit shortly after waking up? Remember, you only need to start small, so if your identity is someone who moves more every day, you could wake up and do some pushups, go for a walk, or any other exercise. Think about other possibilities like brushing your teeth, leaving work, going to bed, etc. For example, before going to bed I like to meditate even if it’s meditating while in bed (thank you Headspace).
Create a routine that supports the new habit
Now that you’ve figured out “where” you can support your new habit, it’s time to create a routine that supports it. When I first started working out several years ago, it was incredibly hard to go to the gym in the mornings. However, once I tied my “exercise habit” to waking up and then set aside my workout clothes and made my workout drink the night before, I almost felt compelled to go since I already set myself up. Nowadays, my car will typically always have a set of workout clothes and my swimsuit, just so that I have little reason to workout after work. The point is that preparation is key.
Part of any new routine is treating yourself appropriately. This is something I’ve fallen for a couple times, I have a great week of adopting a new habit and I’d end up eating bad food or too much food as that was my “reward” but it was/is counterproductive to my identity. Pick something that is meaningful to you and incorporate it into your post-routine. It sounds silly, but for me I used to jump straight to the computer when I woke up. So, my “reward” now after waking up and exercising is simply getting on the computer and checking in on last night’s TV, my email, or brainstorming new apps/projects I can develop or fine-tune.
Inevitably life will throw you some curveballs here and there. But the key thing to remember is that you’re trying to change your life for the better. Don’t compare how long it takes you to adopt a new habit to others, as everyone is different and this is your change. The only person you’re trying to be better than is your previous self, nobody else. You may have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but that’s not always in the case depending on the complexity of the habit. In fact, University College London conducted a study and discovered that some habits may take up to 66 days! This is why it’s important to start small. Starting a small habit that gradually takes you to your new identity will most likely pay off better than trying to start with huge changes. So, with that said, when you do fall off the wagon it’s important to get back on without thinking of yourself as a failure. You are, like many others and myself, a continual work in progress towards improving yourself… even if it’s just 1% everyday.
I’ll end this with what I feel is an appropriate quote from Theodore Roosevelt called The Man In The Arena which is an excerpt from his speech “Citizenship In A Republic”:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.