How to create new habits

Are you trying to stick to a new routine or change old habits and finding it hard to make a lasting change?

Habits are at the center of everything we do; most waking hours are spent executing one habit after another without even thinking about it.

What do you do when you wake up? Get out of bed, make the bed, make coffee, drive to work?

These are all examples of habits that are essential for our daily lives to run smoothly. Because they are so ingrained in our brain there is very little thought or resistance that occurs when executing our daily routine.

When I was having  hard time sticking to my holistic lifestyle routine, I realized I needed to create a habit of living it so routine that I didn’t even have to think about it.

How Do You Stick to a Habit?

I found the best way to stick to a habit is first to understand what a habit really is.

Every habit consists of three parts: cue, routine, and reward.

Cues are triggers for habits to begin. For instance, my alarm in the morning is the cue that triggers my morning habit, and the routine kicks in. Having a routine is the best because it takes the motivation and decision making out of the process. No longer is energy wasted on the internal debate thinking about if I want to live a holistic lifestyle, that is actually better for my mind, body, and spirit. There’s no need to make a decision now; I just follow the process.

After the alarm cue I get out of bed, put on my clothes, splash my face with cold water like 5 times to wake myself up, scrap my tongue, drink a huge glass of celery juice, warm lemon water, and then I give myself time to meditate. Sometimes journal afterwards. By that time, I start to feel energized and ready to move my body mindfully, whatever that may be. I roll out my yoga mat or work with my kettlebells. Even though there was a huge level of resistance initially, I usually end up doing the thing!

The most resistance I find to starting a new habit is in this first stage. Remember Newton’s first law of motion? Things in motion tend to stay in motion? Well this law also applies to habits!

Once you get started, you build momentum and it becomes easier to follow through.

The Three-Second Count off Rule

To encounter the least mental resistance to starting a new habit, the goal is to have the shortest cue time possible. A cue time of three second count is my golden rule. This leaves very little time for willpower to falter. Count backwards… 3, 2 and on the 2, you GET UP AND GO DO THE THING THAT YOU WANTED TO DO!!! 1! You’re now already up and doing it.

Start Small

The real secret to creating a new habit is to start out small in the beginning.

When I wanted to started my holistic lifestyle rituals at home during my Yoga into the New Year Immersion Yoga Teacher Training back in January, I told myself I would only do the Dinācharya, The Āyurvedic Daily Routine for January. After that January, I would stop. I didn’t plan to do it regularly but it was the required homework for our teaching so I wanted to make sure that I did it. I only planned to show up. I wasn’t worried about the benefits of these beautiful rituals; I was focused on building the habit.

I recognized if I didn’t have the habit in place there was no point trying to stick to a routine. Build the habit first and let the rest come naturally.

The truth is, even today when I don’t want to wake up before the sun rises… that’s 5 am everyday. Sometimes earlier! Though, I tell myself that I will at least do some the Dinācharya rituals right as I wake up. And, even if I don’t and all I can manage to do is breathe, that’s okay because I’m keeping my momentum going and my habit intact.

Of course I almost always do more than my ego tells me to do; this is a psychological trick I use to get off my butt even when I’m not motivated.

Importance of Routine

The second stage of a habit is the routine. This is the actual of waking up early and doing the Dinācharya ritual part. Once the cue is complete and the habit solidified in your daily life you can pretty much run on autopilot here.

Just think of all the times you’ve been commuting home from work and arrived in your driveway only to realize you didn’t remember driving home at all. That is an example of a routine that runs on autopilot. Similarly this idea of autopilot can also apply to your workouts once it becomes a habit.

Reward Reinforces the Habit

The last stage of any habit is the reward stage. In the case of the Dinācharya ritual, the reward for me is feeling energized, focused, calm, nourished and getting the rush of feel good endorphins that follow a beautiful yoga flow.

Brain activity spikes in the reward stage, and the link between cue and reward is reinforced. This is what makes habits so hard to break. Every time we complete a habit, it gets reinforced in the brain by the reward.

This means every morning that I do the Dinācharya, it becomes easier to come back because I reinforce the link between the cue and the reward in my brain. Resistance to the Dinācharya decreases, and executing my habit of daily routine becomes easier and easier.

Pro Tip: Writing out a habit with pen and paper has been shown to dramatically increase follow through. I love journaling and writing out my day.

Try writing out this sentence (with pen and paper):

“I’m going to go to _____ on [DAY] at [Time of Day] at [Location]”

By doing this, not only do you increase your chances of exercising, you also turn your time and space into a cue to commence your new habit. You’re already creating and writing it into existence! Getting started is the hardest part, so the more cues you have, the greater your chances for success.

How transitioning to a Holistic Lifestyle Changed My Life

After getting sick, I replaced my unhealthy yet toxic habits with things that actually nourish me and made me better! It’s transitioning to a holistic lifestyle, applying the practices of Dinācharya, where I had some rather unexpected benefits occurred in my life. I quit drinking, doing drugs, ate better, felt calmer, my intuition and powers strengthened and increased.

What was making me very sick before and transitioning to this holistic lifestyle increased my mental energy and willpower, making it much easier to handle the stress of life. It’s crazy how we don’t realize how much routine affects you. It’s crazy how sometimes, we take little things for granted. Addressing your needs and turning in towards yourself is key. Doing that first thing in the morning for myself has been the most warming gift that I can give myself. I feel like I can take on that much more.

Now, instead of opening a bag of chips when I’m stressed, I’ll drink a glass of warm lemon water and go for a little walk and to a different space to meditate instead. I now treat myself with the respect I deserve. And it all started by stepping up to waking up early before sunrise, and going through my Dinācharya routine even for 15 minutes a day.

If you want to make Holistic Living part of your daily life, connect to the intention behind your goals and make it about something bigger than just yourself.

Once you have your intention, write down with pen and paper the time and place to increase your chances for success.

Create a habit of meditating, practicing yoga or doing whatever you enjoy — the shorter the cue time to begin your routine the more likely you are to follow through.

Start small and commit to exercising at least five minutes a day. Build the habit before worrying about the actual thing.

After you have a habit of whatever it is that you do, experiment to find a plan you find fun and can follow consistently.

And remember, things in motion stay in motion! Meaning even if you feel like being lazy and sitting on the couch, it’s very likely once you actually get started you will find the motivation. Remember motivation often comes after the action and not before. Just get started already!!!

I’m not special. I struggle with my mind, body, and spirit every single day. I have to constantly battle debilitating neurotic thoughts telling me I’m not good and I should just give up. These are some of the tips I used to pick myself up out of a depression and get in shape when I wasn’t feeling motivated. Remember that this is all a practice and a beautiful, imperfect journey that we are all on! With these tips I know you can do the same!

Sending this with all my love,
Alice

LIFESTYLEAlice Chen