They say it takes about a month of doing something every day to form a habit, however breaking that habit is often a much quicker process. Healthy habits build us up, bad habits hold us back. So what can we do to set ourselves up for success?

Teaching yourself to do something is a personal experience as everyone has a different learning style. You need to consider what you are trying to introduce into your routine and plan at the start how best to do it.

As I said everyone is different, but here are some tips that worked for me:

  1. Time of day – for me I find the morning is the best time to add a new habit, as often I get swept up in the day and forget to do things. For you first thing might not be best, but it can be a good idea to add your new activity at the beginning of a section of your day e.g. when you get home from work. If you say ‘I have to do this before I do the rest of my routine’, you don’t fall into the trap of procrastination and put it off over and over. No matter when works best for you, try to keep the time fairly consistent as that helps to build the habit into your day.
  2. Involve others – if possible (depending on what habit you are working on) including someone else in your efforts can give you added motivation. For example when I wanted to start going for a walk every day, I asked my husband to join me, that made it a bit more fun and also gave me someone to push me into doing it when I didn’t feel like it.
  3. Phrasing – another way to involve others is to talk about your new habit, but to make it an effective reinforcement you should think about your habit like a done deal. “I do this now”, rather than “I’m trying to do this”. By framing your thoughts as though it’s a done deal, you make it a certainty rather than something you might not do. It also means if you don’t do it people may mention it to you – “don’t you normally take a break now?”, to give you an added nudge!
  4. Write it down – something about putting things in writing makes them seem much more official. That can give you a positive boost towards starting this habit. You can also utilise technology to turn writing it down into a helpful reminder. At work, to encourage myself to take regular breaks I have a diary reminder (in bright red!) that pops up at the same time each day to encourage me to have some rest. I don’t have it as a recurring reminder, at the start of the week I add it in for each day, this reaffirms what I want to achieve ahead of time.
  5. Managing setbacks – the hardest part of habit forming is when you miss a day. It is very easy to think you’ve ruined your hard work and broken the habit. That negative outlook makes it really hard to pick up and carry on the next day, it’s easier to think you’ve failed and it’s over. However it’s just one day, even if you fail on day two, 50% of the time you succeeded! Any further in and the majority of the time you did great! Don’t make setbacks into a big deal or they’ll become a big deal. The only reason to think about your setback is to see if you can learn from it, is there something that you can do to avoid that happening again? Positive thinking can make all the difference!

Taking Step One

When I’m having a bad day and my energy levels are low it often feels impossible to even think about being productive. Any task can feel huge when you look at it in that mood.

One of the best tips I’ve been given during the various therapies I’ve had during my recovery: Just plan to do 5 minutes of an activity.

If tidying up the living room seems like an insurmountable task, I tell myself “well I’ll do a tiny bit”, and once I’ve done that initial effort it’s only a short step to “well I’m here now, might as well do a little more ..” and before I know it the coffee table is clear and the pillows on the sofa are neatly placed.

If you imagine a car, when you start the engine it’s a lot of effort and noise from the car, then it settles into a steady purr. Your body is quite similar, getting started takes a spike of energy and once you are going it’s a lot less energy to maintain.

Worst case scenario, you’ve done 5 minutes of effort and can’t do more. Oh well that’s more than you thought you could do!

Often I wake up feeling like there’s no way I can make it to work. So I say “well let’s just do as far as we can body”, and I get dressed – still ok? – do more of my morning routine – don’t feel awful? – slow walk to the station etc etc. Even if I don’t make it the whole way into the office, or if I do but can’t stay long, it’s more than I thought I could do. I’ve exceeded my expectations and that feeling outweighs any bad feelings about not managing 100% of my goals.

One caution though – when suffering with fatigue beware momentum! I know I’m incredibly guilty of getting caught up in what I’m doing and overexerting myself without noticing. So always make sure to pause and check in with yourself at regular intervals to make sure you’re doing okay!

Failure is an option!

A few weeks ago I wrote a draft blog for work about the importance of sharing failures in my industry. Since then the thought has stuck with me and grown. Failure isn’t just a thing that happens to companies, it happens to all of us in our daily lives. It’s something every single person has one example of, big or small.

But most importantly it’s okay! We should be proud not ashamed!

If we failed at something it means we tried. Trying is much more important that avoiding failure. If we never tried new things we wouldn’t have art or science! If we never tried in our lives, we wouldn’t have learnt to walk or talk, to live our lives! We wouldn’t know any of the skills that make us who we are as individuals.

Personally, I have a habit of using humour to defuse situations that make me stressed. This means I’m often very open about my personal failings, because I make them into a joke, this makes them smaller, not so serious and scary. I know that doesn’t suit everyone, but I do think it’s important we all find ways to shrug off the times when things go wrong. Our failures do not define us, it’s how we react to them – do we blame other people? Or do we learn the lesson and move forward?

Failure is a great opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to find better ways to do things, or even ways to be a better person generally. If you say something in a conversation and it doesn’t go down well, now you know more about the other person and how to interact with them. If you run out of time on a project, next time you know to start earlier, or use your time better. Whatever the situation you will take something away, a piece of knowledge you didn’t have before. Even if that’s something huge like “this isn’t for me” or “I’m not good at that”. Those can seem scary, but armed with that knowledge you can lead your life differently.

Even when things go well, you usually have the feeling that, in hindsight, it could have gone even better. That’s because through that experience we have learnt and grown. We are not the same person who went in, we are more. Failure is no different. We just need to look at it with a more positive lens.

Every experience you have in life is building you up, you need to stop knocking yourself down and appreciate how far you have come.