How to form good habits
On the surface big problems can seem overwhelmingly difficult to get passed. They are so much easier to tackle by being broken into small pieces and dealt with one at a time. When we make our problems smaller they become more manageable and simpler to conquer. None of us are saints, and part of breaking the cycle means overcoming bad habits and facing our problems head on.
In this chapter we will identify what things need to change, and how you can successfully change them. In the same way that you’d write a list of New Year’s resolutions, I’d like you to create a wish list of all the things you would like to change about your life. Everything from overcoming a classic ‘bad habit’ to wanting to find a new home or job. These will be your personal goals.
Form good habits by devising a list of personal goals
To give you an example of how this would work in real life I have written what my own list of goals would have looked like when I was going through this process, along with all the things I had to do to achieve them. They are listed in three phases because although it wasn’t clear to me at the time I now see that my goals were all linked.
My first goal was to cut down on drinking. It’s now plainly clear to me that without doing so I would not have been capable of achieving the rest of my goals. What I had to do and what I would advise you to do is pick the biggest, scariest one first because you will probably find the rest will naturally follow and things start falling into place after you have conquered it.
Cut down on drinking
After Reykjavik I realised I needed some time completely off alcohol, and when I first embarked on my period of abstinence I had no idea how long it would last. I wasn’t sure if I’d pushed the boundaries so far that there would never be just a couple of social drinks ever again. I fully embraced abstinence though and it was exactly what I needed to start thinking clearly and making better decisions.
Three months was enough of a break for me. After that I slowly reintroduced alcohol over the following three months by going out occasionally and having one or two drinks. It was during this time that I properly the learnt the self-control I desperately needed.
It was tough but over time I got out of the mindset that I was drinking to get drunk, and began enjoying good quality red wine or a well-made gin and tonic.
Stop spending time with people who add no value to my life (drinking and clubbing buddies)
Once I stopped drinking I realised how much of my time was spent socialising with people who did not enhance my life, so I simply excluded them from it. They were surprisingly easy to cut out and didn’t fight very hard for my friendship.
Once I told them I wasn’t interested in partying anymore they stopped inviting me out.
I used to feel immense pressure to be sociable at work, but even this was easier to cut out than I thought it would be. After I made it clear I was off the sauce my colleagues soon lost interest in me. I thought this would upset me, and I’d feel left out, but it was a welcome relief.
Stop taking drugs
This naturally followed the two points above. Once I had removed bad influences from my life and stopped drinking, I had no interest at all in going out clubbing. This meant not taking drugs anymore.
Instead I spent lots of time at home. I read books, watched great TV, reconnected with good friends and most importantly became happy with my own company.
The first few months were really hard because I knew that I’d hurt people and in the cold sober light of day I felt embarrassed and ashamed of my behaviour. This was an essential part of the process though because it allowed me the time and perspective I needed to figure out who was worth keeping in my life.
I had fallen into the trap of buying most things pre-prepared due to lack of time so I went back to basics. I started ordering my groceries online, planning what I was going to eat for the week and cooking everything from scratch again. Not going out drinking and clubbing meant that I had loads more time on my hands for the important things in my life.
I also started taking my own food into work which as well as being healthier saved money.
I quickly had more energy and didn’t feel tired all the time.
Start exercising again
I found some suitable DVDs and set aside a few time slots per week to establish a home work-out routine.
It quickly became a part of my weekly schedule and I fell in love with exercising, whereas I had previously seen it as a chore, something I should be doing but didn’t particularly enjoy.
It gave me a great confidence boost when I most needed it.
Stop wasting money on unnecessary things
I naturally saved a fortune when I stopped going out partying.
I started shopping for clothes and other essential items in charity shops or heavily reduced sales. I became mindful of weighing up my wants against my true needs and realised that I didn’t need a lot of the stuff I thought I did.
I still buy clothes second hand nowadays. Not only does it save money but it’s friendlier to the environment.
Find a new job
I stayed in the same job for seven months after the Reykjavik incident. Not because I wanted to but because I was not capable of doing something new until I had conquered the first phase of my list.
During this time I did a lot of thinking and realised what I wanted more than anything else career-wise was to work for myself, so I set up a small food business. Looking back I rushed into it, and I paid the price by being left bankrupt and having to liquidate the company within its first year. I view this as a positive experience overall, though. It taught me some very valuable life lessons, especially where money is concerned.
I went back to admin afterwards and have been working part time since having children. I currently work two days a week in a job that I enjoy for a company that values me. I still aspire to work for myself again someday, but next time I’ll ensure I have a water tight business plan.
Form good habits by becoming dedicated to the cause
Making my changes and establishing good routines took me about six months, during which I learnt that patience really is a virtue. My list was quite a tall order and trying to do it all at once would have been be near on impossible. I focused my energies on one goal at a time and I’d suggest you do the same. By working on them this way you are more likely to succeed.
To stay on track ensure that you continually recognise your efforts and reward yourself justly. Begin by setting yourself daily targets, and progress to weekly targets once you are comfortable with what you need to do. Think of a nice little treat for yourself when you meet or exceed your target, as you’ll be one step closer to achieving your goals. By doing this you are holding yourself to account as well as recognising your hard work. This is another way to make yourself feel good and will provide a confidence boost.
Here are a few tips for staying on track
Ensure that your targets are high enough to count but low enough to attain as it will help keep you motivated. If your targets are too high, or you try to do too much at once you could be setting yourself up for failure. This in turn could lead to losing interest in your goals altogether. Don’t trip over the first hurdle and fall for this common mistake.
Whether you are in the market for a new job, home or hobby ensure that you do your research and find out as much relevant background information as you can beforehand. You can never be too prepared for a job interview, so do your best to woo your potential future employer with your knowledge on the company and role. These small details make all the difference at the hiring stage.
Rejection is tough but you must not be beaten by it. There is always work for people willing to put in the effort. Someone will always let you sleep on their sofa if they can see that you are serious about changing your life. As long as you are honest and have integrity most people will want to help you as much as they can. Recognise when you are being given a lucky break and make the very most of every opportunity.
The best thing about ditching bad habits is that it frees up space in our lives to form good habits. Ultimately we want positive habits that boost our self-esteem and make us feel great, not habits we wish we didn’t have hanging over our heads making us feel rubbish about ourselves.
Form good habits by eating well
When I was growing up I ate a diet consisting mainly of processed junk. I was that kid scoffing chocolate and drinking coke on their way to school. Not knowing the first thing about cooking I ate budget ready meals and fast food for years when I left home. After seeing the photos from my 21st birthday party, and being shocked by how much weight I’d put on, I knew it was time to change my eating habits.
It didn’t happen overnight but during the next couple of years I taught myself how to cook, and moved towards cooking from scratch being the rule rather than the exception. Nowadays I create recipes and write about them on my blog. Good food is an integral part of my family’s life; I love to cook and never see it as a chore. I view uninterrupted kitchen time as therapeutic and calming, something to truly look forward to.
Ask yourself whether you eat well or have fallen into bad habits with food? Do you cook from scratch or buy everything pre-prepared? Do you eat lots of sugary treats and processed carbohydrates? What we eat can have a huge effect over our entire wellbeing, and a diet consisting mainly of natural foods will provide energy, wake up a previously foggy brain and help us think straight. Once you get into good habits where food is concerned it quickly becomes second nature and you’ll wonder why you haven’t been eating this way all along. I have yet to meet a person that hasn’t benefitted from cleaning up their diet.
I am not a qualified food expert, however, having been on both ends of the spectrum I feel that not knowing how to do something as important as cooking is not a good enough excuse. If you need inspiration it can be found everywhere by watching celebrity chefs, reading food blogs, watching YouTube videos and buying cookbooks. Local councils in the UK often have free cookery courses available to all, so it’s worth checking out your council’s website. If you’re a complete beginner you will almost certainly have some kitchen disasters along the way, but don’t be put off by them. As long as you learn from every single mistake you can put the knowledge to good use next time. As with anything else in life, persevere and you will get better.
If not having the time is what’s stopping you then make the time by ditching the non-important things we discussed at the start of this chapter. Batch cooking and freezing is a fantastic way to ensure that you always have good food to hand without having to cook every day. You can pick up tin foil disposable containers from any supermarket. Set aside one afternoon every other weekend to be in the kitchen, make several large pots of food and freeze them into ready meals that can be pulled out whenever you need them. Choose easy recipes that will cause you the minimum amount of stress. Simple soups, stews and curries are a great place to start, and can be economical too, saving you a fortune in comparison to shop bought equivalents.
Fat burning: Get your body to burn fat for fuel instead of sugar by swapping the carbs at breakfast time for something more nutritious and substantial. When our body burns fat it stabilises our blood sugar levels which (among other things) means not getting hungry again so quickly. One of my favourite meals to start the day with is two scrambled eggs with half an avocado on the side. Why not try it and see how long it keeps you going for?
Snack swap: If you are quite partial to sugary treats and processed snacks in between meals, opt for more natural alternatives. Nutrient dense foods such as organic nuts or plain live yoghurt will provide you with energy for longer.
Read carefully: Live by the rule ‘the fewer ingredients the better’. Start scrutinising every single label of every item of food you buy that isn’t in its natural state. Once you see how many unnecessary added ingredients are sneaked into processed food it is likely to be a massive turn off.
Form good habits by exercising
The happy hormones (endorphins) that are released while exercising are a brilliant way to start feeling great about yourself. There are plenty of things you can do to gently kick start getting fit, but you have to be disciplined. Set aside three time slots every week, at any time of the day that suits, solely for this purpose. Once it has become a good habit you’ll find that it has blended into your weekly routine. Below are some suggestions of how to get started. Please ensure you always wear appropriate clothing and get the go ahead from your GP before you start a new exercise programme.
Walking: Using your legs instead of the car or public transport is a great head start to give yourself. It’s completely free and kind to the planet; what’s not to like? Also try taking the stairs instead of using the lift wherever possible.
Running: If you’ve always fancied running but never had the legs for it, check out the Couch to 5k running program. Running is a great way to get your endorphins flowing, and like walking costs zilch! The secret of the success of Couch to 5k is its gentle introduction to getting started. When you first physically get off your couch you alternate between walking and running very small distances. This slowly builds up your capabilities and after eight weeks you will be able to run 5k or 30 minutes non-stop.
Cycling: If you already own a bike then use it. If you don’t but quite like the idea of it then borrow one or pick up a second hand bike to see if it’s for you.
Going to the gym: Especially if you are able to access a subsidised membership, going to the gym is a great way of staying out of trouble. Make sure you actually use it though and get your money’s worth.
Classes: From Yoga to Zumba most local areas have sports and fitness classes run from leisure centres and halls. Some even offer a free taster session to see if you enjoy it. Make sure you are serious before signing up for a block of lessons though, otherwise it will end up being a waste of money. Check out local directories for details. These classes are usually low cost and can be further reduced if you are studying or out of work.
Boot Camps: Many parks have boot camp classes being run from them, usually by independent personal trainers. They are often not very expensive but they’re great fun and can be really effective. Do a web search to find one near you.
DVDs at home: If you can find a DVD that you like then exercising at home is another great way of getting into shape. Once you’ve paid for the DVD it’s completely free, and no-one else is around to watch. Search online to find the perfect workout for you.
Take up a sport: Whether you really enjoyed playing sports when you were younger, or want to take one up from scratch, connect with a local team and see if you can join them next time they train.
Allow extra time: If you’re having an off day and feel you just can’t be bothered try putting on your running/training/gym clothes and see how you feel then. Perhaps you just need a little extra time to warm up.
Work out with friends: Team up with a group of friends and start your own boot camp in the park taking it in turns to lead the class. With the added incentive of not wanting to let the rest of the group down, you can keep each other motivated.
Variety is the spice of life: Give something new a go every now and then. If running is usually your thing try a bit of yoga. If you take classes at the gym try something different at home to see if you like it.
Form good habits by making further lifestyle changes
Smoking: A basic internet search will present you with the various techniques designed to help you give up smoking. Your GP will also be able to talk to you about local quitting programmes that are often completely free of charge. In addition to whichever one you choose, why not try putting the money you would have spent on cigarettes into a jar each day and reward yourself with a nice treat after six months? If you currently have a 20-a-day habit there will be a sizeable amount in that jar. Maybe even enough for a little holiday somewhere.
Drinking: Speaking from experience, my drinking buddies were also people I had to disassociate myself from when I became serious about changing my life. Often these people are the reason we go out drinking or partying all weekend and end up spending the following week feeling like crap. By distancing yourself from the toxic people in your life you won’t be going out with them and therefore won’t spend the week feeling rubbish. Toxic relationships are just another form of bad habit to break, we will talk about them more in the next two chapters.
Giving up vices: If you have real addictions that are ruining your life then you will need to get specific help. As you are reading this book I’m going to trust that you want to change. Now you need to put everything you have learnt to good use and actually do some changing. Find a rehab centre, counsellor or group therapy session to suit your needs. Above all else learn self-control.
Money troubles: If you are stuck in a financial rut, spending everything that you earn and then some, you will need to devise a strict budget and start living within your means. Think about the bigger picture and how the stuff you think you need makes you feel once it’s been purchased. Needing something and wanting it are not the same. Learning to distinguish between our wants and our needs is a useful life skill to have. Once you are able to do so you will probably come to realise that you didn’t need a lot of the things you originally thought you did. You just wanted them. If you are in debt and concerned about paying back what you owe, speak with a free debt advisory service. They will be able to guide you through your options, and help you to formulate a debt management plan.
Hobbies: If you want to channel your energies productively then blogging can be a great hobby. It’s completely free and can lead to endless opportunities. You could start a blog about becoming the best you. It could document your progress, acting as a fantastic keepsake to look back on and be proud of.
A suggested plan of action
Devise a set of personal goals that you would like to achieve, and get serious about making them happen. Remember to break them up into bite-sized manageable chunks, and keep your targets realistic. Think of a suitable reward to treat yourself with when you achieve your goals.
How long it will take you depends on your starting point, but over time learn how to cook good food from scratch. Once it is a regular habit it will start becoming easier.
Exercise regularly and get your endorphins flowing. Whether it’s going for a short jog, taking a class or training in a gym, moving in any way is almost always better that not moving at all.
Don’t beat yourself up for the occasional calorific meal or a couple of missed work outs, as long as it’s not too often. It’s important to allow yourself to have a blowout every now then and a little indulgence once in a while can serve as a great pick me up. Especially if you are sharing the moment with loved ones.