As our thoughts turn to a brighter 2021, many of us will make resolutions to develop healthy new habits – and in some cases to undo bad habits we’ve picked up during the past year. If this is you, cheers!
Changing habits can be incredibly difficult. You can make it easier on yourself, though.
Set a goal that is simple and singular. Don’t overdo it by focusing on multiple resolutions, like eating better, exercising more and sleeping better. Complexity will diminish your chances of success.
Instead, pick one to focus on, and make the desired impact part of your goal, for example: improve my health by eating more green leafy vegetables and fewer breads and baked goods.
Manage your environment. According to Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, willpower is analogous to holding your breath underwater; it is only effective for a short timeframe.
He and other experts suggest adjusting your environment to make it conducive to attaining your goals. Recognize your obstacles and make plans to overcome them. This will reduce strain on your willpower.
According to a study, people with the most self-control utilize the least amount of willpower, because they take a proactive role in minimizing temptation. Start by changing the environment in your kitchen.
In our example resolution above, that means eliminating or reducing the breads and baked goods in your home and keeping a refrigerator stocked with leafy greens you like.
If one obstacle is the time available to cook when you’re hungry, consider in advance the ways you can make in-the-moment food preparation simpler.
This could be as simple as pre-washing and chopping greens when you arrive home from the store or while watching your favorite TV program, or it could be as detailed as precooking meals.
The latter is my personal favorite, and it’s easily accomplished by cooking more than you need for a single meal. For example, rather than chop and roast just the tray of broccoli we’ll eat tonight, we’ll prepare two trays at a time – one to eat today, and one to have in the fridge.
I try to always have at least one prepared healthy meal at the ready for reheating, in case we don’t have the time or energy to cook later.
Rally your support network. Support is another crucial element. In my practice, I find that patients who are most successful with lifestyle changes are those where household members encourage or, even better, when they participate in the intervention, like helping prepare and eating the same meals.
One reason so many have turned to baking during their at-home time is that it provides a fun group activity with a shared outcome. You can produce the same experience by experimenting with new green-intensive recipes together.
Making pots of vegetable stews and chilis, vegan spinach lasagnas with bean noodles, bean-and-green tacos, and cheeseless eggplant/spinach rollatini can be more fun as a group – with the same delicious outcomes.
Bonus: if you double the recipes, you can refrigerate or even freeze the leftovers for reheating later.
Be consistent. When does a change become a new habit? The rule of thumb used to be it takes approximately three weeks. However, a study at the University of London showed that the time to form a habit ranged from 18 days to 254 days.
The good news is that the average time to reach this automaticity was 66 days, or about two months.
Here’s to a happy, healthier 2021.