I used to worry all the time about whether and how to incorporate certain habits into my routine that I knew would make me feel better or were necessary for overall health. How can I make that resolution part of my life so that it was not just a temporary focus for a couple of days but an ingrained habit for the foreseeable future?
Here are seven ways you can learn how to easily turn some, if not all, resolutions into lifelong habits. I encourage you to think of each and every month as an experiment in yourself, giving you the opportunity to explore how to be your best self every day going forward.
1. Use a wall calendar to track your habits: Your visual progress will motivate you to maintain.
This simple little trick has helped me to sustain so many challenges. I keep a big, old-school paper wall calendar in the most visible place in my apartment—my kitchen—and write down the number of drinks I have each week, the days I meditate, and the type and duration of the cardio activity I do. This way, I can quickly add up how many drinks I’ve had, see how much I’ve worked out and what exactly I’ve done, and see how long it’s been since my last meditation morning. Writing down my behavior in a visible place holds me accountable for all these practices every day, encouraging me to keep these habits going for fear of seeing a blank and bleak calendar.Article continues below
2. Do it first thing in the morning.
Over the last year, I learned over and over again that doing something first thing in the morning, whether it’s planks and pushups, meditating, stretching, a cardio workout, or simply getting steps on a hotel treadmill, guarantees me my best chance at success. Taking on health habits in the morning means that if my day gets insanely busy, social or family obligations suddenly arise, or I’m simply too stressed or upset at the end of the day to even consider the idea of habit X, I don’t have to worry about it—I’ve already done what I’ve wanted to feel strong, healthy, and happy.
This isn’t just a personal predilection, either: Multiple studies show people who exercise, meditate, or conquer a similar health feat first thing in the morning are more likely to stick with the habit and do it more frequently than those who work out or meditate in the afternoon or evening.
3. Set your alarm 30 to 45 minutes earlier every day.
When I challenged myself to meditate more, I discovered that getting up 30 to 45 minutes earlier made all the difference between starting my day with positive, focused energy and allowing myself to feel more distracted, anxious, and less connected with myself and the world around me for the rest of the day. After that, when I’d wake up was an obvious choice!
Meditation isn’t the only reason to set your alarm earlier: If you struggle to find time to stretch, work out, do planks and pushups, go for a walk around the block, or do anything for yourself that makes you feel healthy and happy, I recommend getting up 30 minutes to an hour earlier every day. Don’t just take my word: Lots of research shows early risers are more proactive, productive, consistent, successful, and even happier than those who try to tackle tasks at night.Article continues below
4. Tell yourself just one pushup, 50 steps, or five minutes of cardio.
I used to think that if I didn’t have an hour to work out, it wasn’t worth even stepping foot inside a gym. But over the last year, I’ve learned that you can accomplish a lot with your body in 20 minutes. And I know that doing anything, even five minutes of cardio, is better than doing nothing.
Whether you don’t have the time or simply aren’t in the mood to work out, trying to do just five minutes on the treadmill or a bike can have big benefits—and can help turn around your mind and mood, spurring you to work out longer. Similarly, if you don’t feel like doing pushups and planks, tell yourself to do one rep or hold a plank for just 10 seconds—again, doing either is better than doing nothing, and you might find yourself eager to crank out more once you’re on the floor. The same is true of walking or doing just about any type of physical activity: Setting low expectations when you’re time-crunched or unmotivated is one of the easiest and most effective ways to get moving and stay moving.
5. Focus on finding amazing alternatives any time you cut or reduce a food.
I learned that it’s critical to discover tasty food alternatives, so I didn’t obsess over the red meat or sugar I was missing. For example, when I stopped eating red meat, I missed it much less after I discovered smoked salmon with cream cheese.
Similarly, I know I would have been more successful at my low-sugar mission had I kept a stash of strawberries with balsamic vinegar on hand for those times when cookies suddenly appeared. Moreover, the process of finding new foods that you enjoy just as much as the ones you’re trying to avoid is a fun process in itself. Just remember to focus on alternatives that are accessible to you on a daily basis, fit within your budget, and that you enjoy. Forcing yourself to eat smoked salmon or cauliflower kimchi when you don’t like either, for example, won’t help you be successful and may only make you feel more deprived.Article continues below
6. Keep refillable water bottles in your refrigerator, car, and/or office.
Most Americans are chronically dehydrated—and for no reason! This simple tip is so easy to do yet has the potential to affect your overall health immensely. To this day, I still keep at least two bottles filled with water in my refrigerator so they’re always there, staring me down whenever I open the door and ready for me to grab and go or sip from while walking around my home. Compared to pouring yourself a glass, refillable water bottles allow you to quantify your hydration and can motivate you to finish a full bottle, upping your water consumption significantly.
7. Enjoy phone-free time on a daily basis, and wait to answer each text.
Everyone deserves to enjoy time off the grid every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. For this reason, whenever I walk, I still put my phone in my purse. Not only does this give me some precious moments of mental and emotional clarity, but it’s also immensely safer. If phone-free walks don’t apply or appeal to you, consider designating your bedroom a phone-free zone, which will also help you sleep better, according to studies.
Finally, I’ve learned I don’t have to respond to each and every text the moment I receive it. Just because someone chooses to send me a text at a certain time doesn’t mean the sender requires or even wants an answer immediately. I used to send back knee-jerk answers or hastily typed responses because I wanted to respond even though I was in the middle of doing something else. But now I’ve learned it encourages better communication and is more respectful to the sender to take my time to answer each text.
Adapted from The Self-Care Solution by Jennifer Ashton, M.D. Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Ashton. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
* This article is a repost which originally appeared on mindbodygreen.com.