Make Healthful Habits Stick Part 2 By Sophie Knapp, MScN, CN
Hey New Year’s Resolutioners, happy February!
How many of you have given up on your resolutions yet? Most of you? Well, statistics indicate that would be the case. NO SHAME!
Seriously, no shame. Habit change is a hard thing, and it’s human to need time for change to manifest. Don’t let lack of progress or even 100% failure discourage you.
I hope you’re not ready to throw in the towel yet because even if you never got started on your New Year’s Res, you’re still completely capable of accomplishing your goals.
In this second part of making Healthful Habits Stick, I’m going to talk you through some of the “make it stick” strategies you can start using right now to get re-inspired and get back on track toward the changes you desire in your life.
Missed Part 1 of this series? Read it here!
GET INSPIRED, GENERATE MOMENTUM & SUSTAIN IT
If you’ve lost inspiration to work toward your New Year’s Resolution, begin by revisiting the questions and responses you asked yourself at the start of the year. Remember those journal prompts from P1 of this series? If you wrote something down, go back and re-read it because by the time you reach the end of January, you’re in the thick of the daily challenges of making and sustaining change.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that progress can be slow, and it can feel like you’ve been treading water. Getting reconnected with the roots of your efforts will remind you why you wanted to make this change in the first place and make it easier to put in the daily effort necessary to achieve your goals.
After revisiting your original journal entries, your fire will be reignited! Take this surge of motivation and channel it into creating more motivation that’ll keep you inspired throughout the year.
First, get creative and make a vision board. You can draw it all from scratch, make a collage, or get crafty with a digital illustrator or design app. According to neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart, this board will serve as a visual representation of your aspirations and desires and will stimulate imagination, perception, and goal-directed behavior in the brain.1
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between actually doing something and just visualizing it.2 In other words, by imagining yourself living your life with your goal already accomplished, you trick your brain into believing it’s 100% possible because it thinks you already accomplished it. By creating this vision boardl, you open your mind up to knowing you’re capable of getting to where you want to be in life.
Additionally, the creative process of crafting a vision board allows you to tap into your subconscious mind and clarify what really matters to you. It helps you connect your goals to emotional feelings, and emotions are powerful drivers of behavior.1 This allows the vision board to serve as a repetitive tug on your heartstrings, viscerally reminding of why these intentions are important to you.
Remember that these boards are “living.” Your goal may shift as time passes, and you can adjust your vision board as needed to reflect those changes.
BOLSTERING MOTIVATION IN A HIGHLY STIMULATING WORLD:
If you’re trying your absolute best to make your goals happen, but they’re just not coming to fruition, then you may be lacking foundational habits to set you up for success. You need practices that support nervous system regulation and an open, curious, optimistic yet realistic mind.
Cultivating these forms of mindfulness are, in and of themselves, fantastic goals to have, and it could serve you to shift your attention to building them into your life before trying to dive into a bigger goal.
By working on these practices, you can approach bigger life changes with a greater sense of ease and make it more automatic to meet yourself with compassion when you fail. You’ll also appraoch change with more curiousity, making your motivation to try it out and stick with it more natural.
HOW TO REGULARLY REGULATE OF YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM:
Instead of waking up, reaching for your phone and immediately putting yourself in an anxious state of fight or flight by opening texts, emails, and social media, begin each day with 10 deep breaths. Sit up in bed, and practice exhaling for twice as long as you inhale to promote a sense of calm right from the start of your day.3
If you can manage it, add a meditation break into your work day. Take 10-20 minutes to sit quietly and calmly while focusing on your breath and/or a mantra in a distraction-free environment. If you need to tune out more sounds around you, consider using headphones to follow along with guided meditation through an app like HeadSpace or Calm.
Set aside time to be in nature, without digital stimulation. Tune into the elements around you. How does the light affect the way your surroundings appear? Can you feel the warmth of sun on your face? Or the pitter patter of raindrops on your skin? Maybe you can hear their sound as they hit leaves and your raincoat. How does the air around you feel? Without identifying or naming, what does the world around you sound like?
How often do you need to regulate for it to be considered regular? Aim to do at least one of the aforementioned suggestions one time every day. It can take as little as 5 minutes a day, but that small time investment helps you to build your “mindfulness muscles” to the point that your nervous system aqucires a new baseline that spills over into the rest of your day and isn’t confined to those few moments of intention. You’ll naturally feel more calm on a day to day basis, allowing you to continue to approach your efforts of change-making with a clear head and sense of ease.
HOW TO CULTIVATE SELF-COMPASSION FOR A MORE OPEN, CURIOUS, AND OPTIMISTIC MIND:
Many of us slip into critical selftalk when we don’t find immediate success or give up on a goal. This way of talking to ourselves often brings with it shame, a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
One powerful way to do this is to take self-criticm, “I’m a failure,” and turn it into self-compassion, “Everyone fails sometimes. What can I learn from the way my first attempt at change went?”
It can take time to get good at recognizing when your mind is defaulting to critical language. Be patient with yourself as you learn to observe without judgement and shift the tone of the voice in your head.
Here are a couple more examples of how to rephrase your internal dialogue to cultivate more love for yourself and your process (adapted from a social media post by Certified Educator and Facilitator of compassion & mindfulness, @claggie):
Self-Criticism: “I’m not good enough; I just can’t do this. I’m not even going to try again because I’ll probably fail” → Self-Compassion: “All people are imperfect and have flaws. What’s at least one thing I enjoy about myself?”
“Wow, did I really just do that!? I’m super embarrassed and can’t stop thinking about what just happened.” → “Humans make mistakes all the time. What would I tell a friend in my shoes right now?”
“What I’m going through is too hard to bear; it’s too painful.” → “How can I take care of myself in this moment?” (That can be super simple like giving yourself 5 minutes to relieve yourself of stimulation, step outside, and breathe fresh air. Other simple ideas: grab a nourishing snack, take a quick stretch break, take some deep breaths, or go for a walk.)
With a more encouraging voice in your mind that doesn’t shut you down but instead encourages you to keep trying, you can do just that with more ease and without the fear of failure. No matter how many times you do and don’t succeed, choose love for yourself through compassionate selftalk.
THE POWER OF AFFIRMATIONS:
Change-making is deeply intertwined with mindset. Besides catching yourself in moments of criticism and reframing, you can harness the power of affirmations to shape an effective mindset.6
Self-affirmations, the act of affirming one’s own worthiness and values as an individual for beneficial affect, have been scientifically studied to show that they can decrease stress, increase wellbeing, and make people more open to behavior change.7
Self-affirmations can sound different to everyone. A few examples of an affirmation that could help you with following through on behavior-change goals are:
“I am living with purpose.”
“I can do hard things.”
“Failing is key to my learning.”
“My goals are achievable.”
“I trust that I am exactly where I need to be.”
“I’ve got this!”
Pick an affirmation, and say it ten times every day, out loud, to yourself in a mirror. Even if you don’t believe it at first, consistency will help you open to your mind to the possibility of it being true, and eventually, it will become true.
Many people like to layer affirmations in with breathwork as well. You can use them like mantras. For example, on an inhale breath during meditation, in your mind you say, “Failing is key to my learning,” and on the exhale, “I can do hard things.”
Like aspirational quotes, you can put these affirmations up around your house in places you’ll see them. Try sticking affirmations on your bathroom mirror, inside of kitchen cupboards, or on the dashboard of your car. The more your mind sees a message, the more it’ll believe it, and the more it will manifest in your life.
BUILD IN ACCOUNTABILITY
Have you told anybody about your goal yet? Is anybody working on this goal with you?
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that people are more likely to follow through on their goals when they share them with others, especially when they look up to and/or respect the person they’ve shared their goal with.8
So if you haven’t told anybody yet, identify someone in your life you admire, and let them know what you’re working towards. If possible, find somebody you respect who wants to achieve the same goal, and schedule times to check in with each other or work on the goal together.
Alrighty! You have lots of tools; what are you waiting for? Enjoy making progress on manifesting change in your world, and please comment on this blog post if you have questions or want to share your journey.
Sophie Knapp is a certified nutritionist in Washington state with a strong background in human anatomy and physiology with a BS from the University of Oregon and a Masters Degree in Holistic Nutrition from the National Univeristy of Natural Medicine.
Her holistic approach to nutrition counseling helps people get healthy in a way that aligns with their values while using evidence-based eating and lifestyle choices that address the root cause of ailments. In the words of one of her clients, “Sophie takes the time to make sure you feel heard and works with you to establish habits that are not a quick fix but are easy to sustain for the long term. She has made a massive difference in my life and her calming presence is wonderful to be around.”
- Therapist W. Psychology of Vision Boards and The Source by Tara Swart Summer Vlog #manifestation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7sh4a--C6Y. Published August 9, 2023. Accessed February 5, 2024.
- Dijkstra N, Fleming SM. Subjective signal strength distinguishes reality from imagination. Nat Commun. 2023;14(1):1627.
- Komori T. The relaxation effect of prolonged expiratory breathing. Ment Illn. 2018;10(1):7669.
- Andrews B, Qian M, Valentine JD. Predicting depressive symptoms with a new measure of shame: The Experience of Shame Scale. Br J Clin Psychol. 2002;41(Pt 1):29-42.
- Budiarto Y, Helmi AF. Shame and Self-Esteem: A Meta-Analysis. Eur J Psychol Assess. 2021;17(2):131-145.
- Cascio CN, O’Donnell MB, Tinney FJ, et al. Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016;11(4):621-629.
- Cohen GL, Sherman DK. The psychology of change: self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annu Rev Psychol. 2014;65:333-371.