Blog Post- 5 Habit Myths

According to a recent study, 51% of Britons say they "should do more about my health". It is no surprise that exercising more is also the most common New Year's resolution. Yet, many of us find it hard to turn these good intentions into action. It seems our habits can't keep up with our desire for a healthier life. The reason? There is a lot of misinformation and half-truths out there. Here are the five most common myths that might keep you from reaching your goals:

 

1. It's All About Willpower

Willpower is like a muscle- it gets tired over time. Suppose you have a job that forces you to make many decisions. In that case, chances are your decision-making "muscle" is too weak to resist that chocolate bar in the evening. 

What you can do:

Have a look at your daily routine and see what you could either eliminate or decide in advance to create a system that works for you. When he was in office, Barack Obama famously said he always wore the same kind of suit each day, so he didn’t have to think about what to wear in the morning. Eating the same breakfast every morning is another way to simplify your day and not lose energy over minor decisions. See what works for you - it might seem tedious at first, but you will soon come to appreciate how much easier it becomes to plan your day when you have specific habit systems in place.

 

2. Ignore Your Inner Critic

Would you talk to a friend the way you speak to yourself sometimes? The things we tell ourselves are often surprisingly harsh. Most of the time, we ignore this inner voice, but it weakens us and makes it harder to stick to our goals. It's time you stop putting yourself down. 

What you can do: 
Take a pen and paper and draw two columns. On the left, write down some of the negative sentences you tell yourself. Be specific and include anyone you remember who contributed to that message. That might be a family member, a teacher or a friend. 

Now counter each of these thoughts with a positive truth in your life. Write a positive truth in the column next to the negative belief. That could be "I care about my health and have already taken steps in the right direction". Keep at it and go back to the exercise whenever you feel negative thoughts about yourself coming up. 


3. Repetition Is The Only Way To Create Good Habits 

Another misconception. Repetition is part of forming a habit, but it isn't the only thing that will help you stick to one. For this, you need to reward yourself more. How?  In his book "Tiny Habits", Prof. B.J.Fogg discusses the importance of celebrating habits no matter how small they are. 

When you reward yourself or celebrate your bite-size habit, you create a feeling Professor Fogg calls “shine”. Shine is a positive feeling created within you. For example, you could feel “shine” when people clap at the end of your presentation or when your team scores in the final minute to win the League. Shine is making you feel good about yourself on demand. Suppose you create that feeling immediately after you perform your bite-size habits. In that case, your body releases dopamine, signalling to your brain that this is a behaviour that you want to engage with more frequently. They call dopamine the learning hormone; it’s like a mental pat on the back, telling you what behaviours are rewarding enough to want to repeat. If you reward yourself by creating this feeling of shine immediately after performing your bite-sized habit, it helps fast track your habit formation journey. If that behaviour gets repeated, it can lead to habit change. 

Here are some suggested ways in which you can create this feeling of shine:

Singing songs that give you a feeling of confidence like "Hey now, you're a rock star", physical movements like fist bumps or verbal statements like "way to go!". You can also visualise what makes you feel successful. If you are at work, draw a smiley face on your to-do list when it's done or give yourself a funny sticker of congratulations. Change is hard, but it’s even more complicated if we are hard on ourselves about it. Celebrating your successes (no matter if it’s only drinking an extra glass of water today) will kickstart your success. 

 
4. Big Goals Lead To Big Changes

We have all heard the story of someone who changed their life overnight. They woke up one day and decided that enough is enough. Forty pounds or 1 million dollars later, they are happy, healthy and forever reminding you that it's all about "just going for it". 

Whilst this might be true for some people, the majority will crash and burn when aiming that high. We have, after all, a life to live: A demanding job, children to pick up from daycare, a parent that needs help...the list goes on. A big goal requires an enormous amount of energy and focus. 

What you can do instead:

Stop putting yourself under pressure. There is a method that will help you to channel incremental changes over time: Kaizen. It allows you to design a simple process that will get you measurable results. You can learn more about Kaizen here


5. Having A Goal Is The Most Important Part of Changing A Habit

In the 1970s, the US government conducted a study on soldiers in Vietnam who were addicted to Heroin. To its surprise, 95% of them stopped taking the drug once they returned home. That flew in the face of everything we knew about drug addiction back then. Forty years later, behavioural scientists can explain what happened: Our environment affects our behaviours, even the unwanted ones. Certain things in your environment, such as seeing the entrance of your office building where you always smoke your lunch cigarette, can become powerful cues. They are often so deeply ingrained that we simply follow the pattern- in this case, smoking- even if we don't want to. 

The soldiers returned to a place that was so radically different from Vietnam that changing their drug habit was much easier than sticking to it. 

What you can do:

Modify your environment to rely less on your willpower. Put a lid on the candy dish in your office or keep fruit on your kitchen counter and veg in the eye-line of your fridge, hide the TV remote or replace it with the book you’ve meant to read. These simple changes will make a difference in your daily behaviour, creating lasting habit changes. 


If you want to kick start your habit changes, why not sign up for the FREE Small Changes, Big Results masterclass! Click here to access it now: FREE Habits Masterclass.

Published on 12th Aug 2021 at 12:00 by Heather McKee

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Copyright ©2021 Dr. Heather McKee

Dr. Heather McKee is registered in Ireland Reg. No. 687397 with the registered address at 314 Mother Teresa House, Loreto Abby, Rathfarnham, D14 NR20, Co. Dublin, Ireland

This work is in no way meant to replace any medical advice. Dr. McKee is Non-HCPC-registered. Photography by Dylan Madden.

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