Forming new habits is hard—especially when they’re healthy ones that perhaps require you to choose a piece of fruit over a tempting chocolate bar. It’s Lent, so chances are you may be abstaining from something until Easter, or you may just be on a health kick before beach season reaches its peak. Whatever your reason for wanting to form a new habit, it’s essential to equip yourself with a few psychological hacks to ensure you stay the course.
Think back: Have you ever vowed to stop drinking wine for a week, and then, before you know it, you’re glugging a large glass of pinot noir, having completely forgotten about your vow to go dry? Our brains can be very persuasive when they want to be. With that in mind, we called on two psychotherapists to share their tips and tricks to staying the course and making that healthy habit stick. Keep scrolling for their seven healthy habit hacks.
“If you’re going to an event where you’re concerned you’ll overeat, mentally rehearse it beforehand, and imagine it going as you would want it to go,” says Chloe Brotheridge, psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and author of The Anxiety Solution (£13). “Play a movie in your mind of yourself at the event, eating mindfully, saying no to extra helpings or dessert and taking sips of water between alcoholic drinks. When you imagine something beforehand, you create a blueprint in your subconscious, and it makes it much easier to create in real life.”
Replace Unhealthy With Healthy
Have a clear-out of anything unhealthy in the house; that way you won’t be unnecessarily testing your willpower every time you walk into the kitchen! Replace them with healthy alternatives like fruit or vegetable crudités. A bowl of 0% Greek yoghurt and frozen berries with cinnamon can feel like a real treat, honest. And remember: Often you’re not actually hungry; it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. Try having a bath if hunger strikes after dinner. “If you forget to take your supplements, store them in your line of vision when you’re cooking so that you’ll be reminded to take them,” Brotheridge says.
“Tell other people about your plans for your new healthy habits. Being held accountable by loved ones and having them remind you will help,” Brotheridge says.
Get Out of Your Mind
“The key to temptation is that it’s all in the mind, so what you need to do is to get out of your mind for a while, and focus on your body,” says Jess Henley, psychotherapist and mind coach. “You need to understand what your body’s telling you, not what your mind is telling you it wants. Wherever you are—at your desk, on your way to work, school run, etc.—focus all your attention on your breath.
“Notice what it feels like to breathe today. Is your breath light and shallow in your chest or deep into your lungs? Don’t try and change it; just notice it. Do this for 30 seconds, and then switch to the opposite breathing to what you’re doing, so if it was deep, go shallow, and vice versa. Do this for 30 seconds, and again, notice what this feels like. If you find your mind keeps wandering, when you notice, just bring it back to your breath. Try and keep this up for three minutes, or longer if you can.
“If after doing this, you still want to have that slice of cake, or treat yourself to a lie in, then you are following your body, and it’s okay to do it or eat it. You are no longer being driven by the mind, which could be using temptation as a distraction from work or your emotions. Find it hard to switch off? Try to notice the silence and the space around you. Every sound needs to be surrounded by silence in order to make a noise. Focus all your attention on the underlying silence. This should stop the mind buzzing and bring you right into the present.
“The same as with silence is space. Every object is surrounded by space and needs space in order to be as it is. Look around the room and notice the space between the furniture and the walls, the space around each object instead of the object itself. Again, this takes you out of your mind and into the present, clearing the constant buzz of the mind. With both of these, if you find you mind coming back in, just notice it, and then bring your attention back to the silence or space.”
Remove Yourself From Temptation
It’s easy to remove temptation at home, but when you’re out and about it’s not so easy. “If food is the temptation, then take yourself out of the room and away from it—leave your desk for a bit. In a restaurant? Just pop to the loo—and do one of the above for a couple of minutes, and then see how you’re feeling afterwards,” Henley says.
Imagine Your Goal
“Get into the habit of imagining yourself at your ideal weight,” Brotheridge says. “Notice how you’ll feel, move, think, behave and what you’ll wear once you’ve reached your goal weight. Doing this helps you to create a new internal image of yourself as a slimmer person, and your habits will start to align with that new internal image.”
Henley agrees, “Do the breathwork exercise above for three minutes with your eyes closed, and then bring up an image of what your goal is, so your super-fit body, or having reached your goal weight, whatever it may be, really focus on that image, and let the feeling of achievement it brings flood your whole body, focus on that feeling, and make it as strong as you can.
“Feel it radiating out of you. Try and do this for five minutes. Then next time you’re tempted by chocolate or want to lie in bed, you can bring that image to mind, flood your body with that feeling and let it motive you, remind you of your goal and stop temptation in its tracks.”
Go Easy on Yourself
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even the top supermodels and celebrities have days when they eat too much and don’t exercise! Allow yourself space for a break from your diet or exercise regime. It’s okay, just refocus the next day when you’re ready. Being hard on yourself comes from the mind and not the body. Don’t let the mind take over!” Henley says.