Emma Kenny: ‘How to form new habits and make them stick’
-Nov 27, Hannah Hargrave, Living -
Forming good habits can be life changing but all too often people are consumed with breaking bad practices rather than creating positive new ones. We’ve spoken to popular British TV show This Morning’s resident psychologist Emma Kenny about choosing the right habit and making it stick.
We’ve all been there, you vow to start exercising daily or to meditate every morning and two weeks – or sometimes two days – into your new routine and you realise you’ve forgotten all about it. Forming new habits can be difficult especially if you’ve set the bar pretty high, but with a little understanding and some expert advice you can be on your way to making good habits which will become part of your regular routine for life.
What is a habit?
Habits are routine behaviours that are repeated on a regular basis. Many habits such as nail biting are done subconsciously. But a good new habit will only become automatic through frequent repetition. As Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Why should you form good habits?
The New Year is fast approaching and you can be sure that there will be millions of people vowing to break bad practices such as smoking or overeating, but what about focusing on making good new habits? Emma explains why it’s so important.
“If you look after your physical emotional and mental well being you feel happier and your experience and relationships are better and the people around you like you more,” she explains. “Looking after the self has a far reaching extrapolation regarding others as well. So it’s a kind of conducive to all parties’ situation.
“It also teaches people the most important requirement of being a happy human and that is agency. You happen to the world, the world doesn’t happen to you. The more habits that you have that reflect and connect you to feeling like you are inspired the better you feel and the higher you operate.”
How long does it take to form a new habit?
Good habits are rarely formed overnight – that would be too easy. But how long should you expect to have to wait until your habit becomes habitual? The truth is it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario .
“It’s different for different people,” says Emma. “For one person to quit smoking it could take one session, for another it could take five years. What I would say is it’s going to feel like an effort for a month or two. So four to eight weeks to get reinforced and it can be the same when you get out of it. If you miss going to the gym for a month the chances are you just don’t really want to go again.”
Tips for forming new habits
Deciding you want to get fit isn’t a habit, it’s a resolution and a pretty vague one at that. Rather than making grand and unachievable promises Emma says taking small steps is the key to making a huge difference.
Good habits shouldn’t be boring
“Healthy habits are not things you should find either boring or difficult because that’s a problem,” says Emma. “It’ll be near on impossible to stick to. People think that being healthy in their habits means going to the gym four times a week, eating only green food and mediating for six hours a day. But if you overwhelm yourself with that kind of perspective you’ll never make a difference to your life.”
A habit needs to be manageable
“A healthy habit is a ritual that works for you on a daily level. For example: people often tell me they haven’t got time to exercise. But what about a five-minute Tabata workout? You cannot argue with me that five minutes is not available to you every single day. That five minutes of Tabata has taken care of some exercise. That starts a very good reward cycle. Your cortisol gets lowered your serotonin gets released and that means just by doing five minutes Tabata you atomically start to feel happier and when your body starts to change you enforce that with a visual.”
Do things that are easily accessible to you
“I find preparation makes it so much easier to make a new habit and make it work. If you want healthy family meals to be habitual then you need to get organized. By planning your meals, your shop and preparing and freezing in advance you can not only make healthier choices but less expensive ones too.
“The same goes for if you want to do five minutes of yoga every morning. If your gym gear is there already laid out the night before or you make an agreement that yoga is done in your pajamas then it’s one less thing to think about when the morning rolls around and you want to press the snooze button.
“Do things you able to do or adapt to because they are easy accessible to you.”
Ask yourself why you want to change
“It’s not enough to say ‘I want to change my weight’. Forming a healthy habit would instead be strategically planning whatever you want to be. Like, I’d like to lose two pounds of weight a week, I want to lose it by ensuring I have at leafy green salad and a packet of snack a jacks for my lunch every day. Thats how we formulate those kind of rituals.”
Taking your Lumity Supplements in the morning and the night is a good habit you can quickly get to grips with. Put them by your toothbrush and you’ll see them when you brush your pearly whites in the morning and evening. Or you could even try setting an alarm.