Ahhhh change. It comes so hard to all of us! Forming a new healthy habit can be as elusive as that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow .
Of course, there is much variability. Some behaviors are easier than others and healthy habit formation just comes easier to some of us. In fact, there is so much variability, that a study from the European Journal of Social Psychology showed that for a behavior to become automatic (aka a habit) it took participants anywhere from 18 to 254 days!
Most experts agree that you should, on average, give something about 3 months (90 days) for it to become a habit. Personally, I think it takes even longer than that to truly make a new routine part of your life!
What if I told you that there is a way you can expedite the process and force yourself to “fast track” a healthy habit and be more consistent? Can that be or am I smoking something ?
Let me tell you a story.
When I was in college, my roommates/college mates (who also happen to be among my dearest friends, still today) and I used to go to the gym regularly, pretty much almost every day. We would go together as a pack, push each other to work out hard and then come back home, shower, eat and move on with our day.
We had consistency, we had created a healthy habit. Or so we thought. Then, graduation came along and everyone went their separate ways. We lost our pack across distance, continuing studies and new jobs.
Slowly life got more complicated, relationships developed, people got married, babies started coming, time zones changed and work got more demanding. One by one, the work-outs went on the back burner. There was no time to exercise anymore. Only two of us beat the odds and kept working out. I, being my disciplined self, and truly believing that exercise is key to longevity and health, was one of them.
My life also kept getting more complicated. Demands also grew, but I had to make it work. When I no longer had time to go to the gym, I started doing at home workouts. In 30 minutes, I could get an excellent work out and get on with my day!
For a while now, my friends and I would have conversations about how we missed working out together. I heard a lot of: “Oh that’s too bad we don’t live close by anymore, if we were close, we would surely be working out with you! We need a Michelle to come kick our butts and get us to exercise.”
Well, fortunately I am always up for a good butt kicking ! I started thinking about how we could make it happen, so that everyone could go back to practicing regular exercise. Good old technology came to the rescue!
After some discussion, we decided that 5:30 am was the time that would usually work for most of us. Now, for almost two weeks, we have been meeting, Monday thru Friday morning, and working-out together through video conference.
Everyone shows up, unless they are traveling and/or in a different time zone. We lift each other up. There has been soreness and complaining, struggles and groans during exercises, but everyone shows up. It is certainly hard work!
We all agree, that if it wasn’t for our group effort, nobody would be waking up so early to work-out. Now, I am not saying that this healthy habit is formed. Clearly, we will have to do this for many months for everyone to make a TRUE lifestyle change. However, as they get stronger, the soreness will lessen and they will look better. That within itself will start the positive feed-back loop that will turn this into a healthy habit.
In the meantime, why do they keep showing up? Let’s be honest, starting an exercise program is never an enjoyable experience if you aren’t used to it. You walk around feeling sore for days, and it takes at least a few weeks of consistency to start seeing changes. Definitely not a quick fix.
Humans are funny species. We are all aware that even when we know something is good for us, we still don’t do it. Perfect example: the diabetic who eats poorly and doesn’t take his/her insulin regularly. Even though they know all the ill effects of uncontrolled blood sugar, least of which includes amputation of toes, fingers or even larger parts of their limbs. What about the recovering cancer patient who sneaks out to keep smoking?
These are extreme cases, for sure, but if they can’t be motivated to incorporate healthy choices into their lives, that are actively threatened by illness, how can we expect a healthy person to make a change that is neither easy nor comfortable?
We know that bad habits are usually reinforced by the release of a feel-good brain chemical called dopamine. The more you do it, the more that dopamine cycle happens and the more ingrained the bad habits become, says News In Health.
It is really not the knowledge of making healthy choices that makes them get up every morning and exercise, although this can help.
So, what is it then? Are you ready? It’s so simple.
What is accountability?
According to Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, a company that helps leaders create accountability and inspire collective action on their organization’s most important work, “Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.”
This is the true reason why these busy women are showing up every day. We are being held accountable to each other. We are delivering on a commitment. Who likes to let others down? Especially when it’s people you love and are important in your life. This is truly a strong driver and it is actually key in many successful businesses. Amazing to me that this is stronger than actually doing something just because it is good for you!
The accountability mindset
Now, obviously, before you embark on your accountability journey, you have to be ready to make a change and take action. There are several stages your thoughts must go through. Your mindset has to be in right place, otherwise you aren’t even going to volunteer to do this. So, the first step has to be in your mind. You must want to change, you must be ready for it.
My friends had been talking for a while about wanting to start exercising, they had gone through the first three stages and were ready for action. They just needed the push to be consistent once they took that first step. This is the perfect combination, in my mind, for habit formation: You want the change, and you have somebody to give you that push so that you can make it happen. This is critical in the initial period of new habit formation. It takes a village to raise kids and to form new habits .
SO, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
What health changes do you want to make? If you are really ready to take the plunge, find a friend (or friends! the more the merrier) to hold you accountable (and vice versa). If you can’t find someone, reach out here! I can help get you there.
This post was also published in Dream Vibrant Health, a blog about life and health.