By Dr. Laura Leonard DC
Research estimates that it can take anywhere from 18 to 200 plus days to form or break a habit. Creating habits are an essential part of hitting our New Year’s goals.
We often give up if we don’t have success with our goals by the end of January. Now is the time to begin thinking about goals and to start writing down a plan to achieve them.
In a previous article, I discussed SMART goals as a tool for writing down our plan on paper. Get a New Year’s resolution notebook to write down SMART steps.
You will then have a place to journal about your progress and revise as necessary.
S: Be specific about the goal
M: Make it measurable. How much? How long?
A: Is the goal actually attainable.
R: Is the goal realistic? Does it fit into to your values and life circumstances?
T: Set a timeline for your goal and break it down into smaller pieces with a reward at the end of each segment.
Besides using SMART goal journaling, there are some additional brain hacking tools to ensure our success. Researchers have discovered that the basal ganglia in the brain plays an important part in habit formation. The tendency of the brain to create habits is an evolutionary tool that improved our survival by making us more efficient. This superpower can also create addiction. Trigger, routine and reward are the things that we can consciously alter to make or break a habit. For example, smoking is a habit we want to remove and getting more active is a habit we want to add.
In order to quit smoking, we can manage stress triggers by working on how we see the world. This is a slow process that takes time because many of our triggers are subconscious. Substituting an unhealthy routine with a beneficial one is an easier place to begin.
A new routine could be as simple as taking a walk, meditating, listening to a podcast, or drinking a cup of tea instead of smoking a cigarette. Finally, we can boost the reward by giving ourselves something special after each week of accomplishment.
What about adding a new habit to our routine. Creating positive triggers to form healthy habits is useful. A funny example I’ve seen is to sleep in workout clothing. This guarantees that you are triggered to exercise as soon as you wake up.
Working out first thing eventually becomes routine and the reward is feeling more energized during the day. Once we realize we can’t live without feeling this way, we no longer have to wear gym clothes to bed because our new habit has become automatic.
Finally, type A planning needs to go out the window when we are trying to meet goals. The all or nothing approach is not attainable or realistic unless you have all the time in the world to work at it. If weight loss is a goal, don’t expect to jump into a restrictive diet and be able to maintain it long-term.
Instead, try counting your carbs and reduce their intake by half. Add small segments of exercise throughout your day in 15 minutes increments instead of an hour or more at the gym after work when you are already tired and have family obligations.
My motto is…something is better than nothing. Once you start having success, you can create new goals. To put the icing on the cake, get a partner or group who are working towards a similar goal. Accountability is a big one.
We are hardwired to work best in groups. It is human nature to get great satisfaction from having our accomplishments noticed and to help others along the way.
“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision.”
– Atomic Habits, James Clear
Dr. Laura Leonard has a BSc in Neuroscience and is a Doctor of Chiropractic. She has been in practice for 20 years and recently joined Dr. Lenz and Dr. Savoia at the Los Alamos Chiropractic Center. Dr. Leonard’s practice focuses on posture and performance using a combination of soft tissue release, adjustments and exercise recommendations. She also coaches patients on nutrition, self-care and body awareness so they can manage themselves in between visits. Los Alamos Chiropractic Center is in the Mary Deal building on Trinity Drive.