Building lasting habits

Working towards happy, healthy habits that stick is challenging. The habits we might seek out for ourselves – eating better, exercising regularly, making more time for wellness – are difficult to invest in because they are largely difficult to maintain on an everyday basis. If you’re thinking about turning a goal into a habit, think about these steps to making it happen:

#1 Think about why it could be good for you

Take some time to reflect on the rationale behind your precious goal; say you are hoping to develop your artistic skills. Are you looking to become a famous, high-earning artist? Or do you want to spend your free time being creative for personal growth? Make sure you are taking this time out of your schedule to enrich an aspect of your life and your happiness. We are often highly driven to work on goals to benefit careers and relationships, often failing to leave room for our own.

#2 Think about why it might not work

Chances are, you’ve worked at kickstarting this habit in the past, and it wasn’t fruitful. What barriers did you come across in that process? Was it poorly timed during a particularly stressful period at work/school? Were you processing heavy emotions at the same time that were distracting you? Or did you walk into this process without the right resources at your disposal? Whatever the case may be, put together a list of roadblocks that may have gotten in the way of your goal.

#3 Start small

Once you’ve got a decent list for step 2, jot down some bullet point ideas for how these can be overcome. For example, if your goal is to exercise in a more regular fashion with challenges such as lack of time, fatigue, lack of motivation getting in the way, consider:

  • engaging in physical activity that does not require a significant time commitment
  • making exercise a part of your “absolutely necessary” routine such as transport to and from school/work
  • starting with low intensity exercise such as stretching routines before jumping ahead to heavier duty workouts
  • turning a hobby of yours into an exercise session; dance workouts, watching Netflix while pedaling on a stationary bike, taking the dog out for a brisker walk/jog

#4 Put in on a calendar

Writing it down helps concretize the activity! You don’t need to set specific deadlines just yet but putting a goal down on paper helps establish a sense of accountability towards yourself. It also might add some weight to your goal, reminding you that this habit is just as important as your research abstract submission deadline, and your exam prep.

#5 Get a buddy

Telling a friend about your goal is a must! Doing so allows you to have a healthy, encouraging, support system to remind you of the reason why you set out to achieve this goal in the first and even to participate along with you. Share recipes together, workout on Zoom, and challenge yourselves between you both to help you reach that goal; a little competition never hurt anyone.

Ultimately, we so easily dive into work to promote our external assets; work, education, family, but we often neglect our internal ones; spirituality, nutrition, happiness to name a few. Before diving into a process of self-growth, make sure your environment reflects some aspect of your goal and be kind to yourself in the process. There is no rule dictating how much time it takes a person to reach a goal, it can be as fast or slow-paced as you would like. What will you think about working on this month?

This article was written by Madison Le Gallee, a medical student at McGill University and member of the Mindful Medical Learner Team.

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