How to build new habits: #smallchanges for big wins

change our habits looking at watch


If it's broken, fix it! Doctors estimate that around 80% of ill-health, chronic, degenerative and autoimmune conditions are diet and lifestyle-related - this means they're fixable! Lifestyle and dietary changes can go a long way to reversing illness and creating much better health. But they're not 'quick-fixes' - achieving true health is a journey, not a destination, and every journey must start with a single step to build new, healthier habits.

We humans are creatures of habit - often deeply ingrained and dearly held. Abandoning, or making fundamental changes to these established routines is not always easy - but it is possible. In this post, we’ll consider how we can take these first, simple steps....

Hard habits to break

Habits are the actions we take automatically every single day without a second thought - getting dressed when you get up in the morning, making breakfast, leaving the house at the same time for work perhaps.

There is no mental energy needed to accomplish these tasks because the habits are ingrained in our brains through a process of cue-craving-response-reward:

  • The cue - our phone buzzes or beeps
  • We immediately have a craving to see what’s in the message/email/notification
  • Next comes the response - we grab the phone and see what it is
  • The reward - craving satisfied. Grabbing and reading our phone becomes the ‘habit’ associated with it buzzing or beeping.

We are rarely fully conscious of what we are doing because the habit kicks in when the cue happens. But when we are trying to change these habits, it becomes a challenge - habits make our lives easier and we’re reluctant to mess with this.

“Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman.”

- Maya  Angelou

Time to change

Changing often life-long behaviours - what we eat, when (if?) we exercise, what time we go to bed - is so difficult because they are so deeply ingrained through the cue-routine-reward process.

To break these habits, we must deliberately interrupt our routine and replace old behaviours with new ones to see which will offer the rewards we are craving.

For instance, consider sleep. Almost all of us struggle with fractured sleep and our cue may be chronic fatigue. We begin to crave more (and better quality) sleep. Our habitual response routine might be to have that sneaky last glass of wine, stay up a little too late and, when we do eventually turn in, to check Facebook one last time (... for half an hour more!). Our reward prospect here might be entertainment, or the thought of a mental ‘wind down’ before we go to sleep.

But here's the thing: what we actually find is that social-media promotes a consistent hit of dopamine, the motivation-reward related neurotransmitter, which interferes with our sleep-producing hormone melatonin. Then, the blue light emitted from devices further disrupts our production of melatonin, which further messes with our sleep. So our craving for more sleep and wind-downing ends up breaking our sleep even more!

So, if it's broken, fix it!

Why not put the phone away and listen to some soothing, restful music? Or read a relaxing book by a sleep-promoting orange or red light? Or both? Listening to music will satisfy our craving to ‘switch off’ mentally, while reading a book feeds our desire to be entertained. Thrillers and horror fiction are not recommended here.

Any change in a long-held behaviour will require motivated effort on our part (believe me, I am constantly saying NO! to my iphone) but as time goes by, these new routines become more strongly connected with the cues and rewards and soon become automatic, with little conscious thought required.

Fail to prepare, or prepare to fail?

For the best chance of success in making lasting changes, it’s important to remember a couple of things:

First, we should choose the goal ourselves, and not rely on the suggestions of well-meaning friends and family. If someone suggests, for example, that we should exercise more, but we’re not 100% invested in that (and perhaps even resentful), ‘failure’ is much more likely. But if we identify the behaviours we most want to change, we’ll be much more motivated to put the work in.

On that note, start simple... so if my aim is to write for two hours a day, better to go for 30 minutes initially and build up from there. It’s easy to get over-motivated and go in all guns blazing, only to become disheartened when we can't keep it up and things don’t change overnight!

Any change in long-held #behaviour will require motivated effort on our part, but as time goes by, these new routines become more strongly connected with the cues and rewards and soon become automatic. Click To Tweet

Then, when we've committed to it, we should keep reminding ourselves of our goal. Put reminders up in the places where we want to make the change - if you want to cut out the screens at bedtime, put a reminder on your bedroom door and by your bedside. Better yet, get into the habit(!) of leaving your screens downstairs, or on the landing well away from where you sleep.

A certain amount of failure is inevitable, but we shouldn’t let one or two bumps in the road derail our journey towards success. If we fall over, so what? We can simply pick up where we left off!

There is no reason at all to abandon the plan, just another opportunity to implement it. And rest assured, with commitment and a plan we can reach a successful outcome.

“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”

- Libba Bray, The Sweet Far Thing

Health coaching

If this resonates with you, health coaching can make the difference between wishing life was better and creating a much better life.

A mentor, helping you to understand why food-is-medicine and why education comes before medication; teaching you how to put the nutrient-dense traditional foods that kept generations of our grandparents fit, lean and free from chronic diseases, back onto your table.

A coach, helping you to get clear on your health goals and priorities; supporting you with information, inspiration and the motivation to take small, actionable steps for the wins - the diet and lifestyle changes that get you into the driving seat and put the pedal to the metal for more energy, vitality, control and much better health.

An ally, on your side, encouraging you to gain the confidence to manage your own health. An ally in allowing you to shine and make rest of your life, the BEST of your life.

Izabella Natrins

I'm here to inspire and support women at midlife and beyond to re-ignite purpose and meaning to take back control of their health and create the radical, resilient heath they want and deserve. As a whole-health expert with over 30 years experience in the field, a qualified Health and Wellness Coach and Ballymaloe-trained nutritional chef, my real food nutrition and lifestyle medicine programmes support women fighting fatigue, struggling with overwhelm, weight gain, sleep, energy and niggling or multiple diagnosed health issues. As an advocate for real food nutrition, regenerative agriculture and whole-health, my book 'The Real Food Solution' is an evidence-based treasury wisdom for energy, vitality and better health for people and planet and a call to action to change the way we grown, source and cook our food. As the CEO at The UK Health Coaches Association, I'm proud to continue the task of leading the first professional association for Health and Wellness Coaches in the world and the gold standard for the UK and Ireland.

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1 Response

  1. November 3, 2020

    […] – I’ll re-organise my daily routine to incorporate these actions – it’s what we do every day that sends our body ‘safety’ signals, allowing the rest-de-stress-digest to heal inflammation and pain. […]

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