Cultivating a habit…

How long does it take to form a habit? Some say as little has 21 days…but recently I read this article from the health behavior research center from UCL that said 66 days as a minimum. Isn’t that small wonder that the fire of our well-intentioned “New Year Resolution” usually burn very brightly in the month of January and are reduced to mere embers by the time Valentines Day rolls around? Knowing that, I also realized that what I’m trying to do with my work and my fitness is also cultivating a habit. And the key is to sitck to it for long enough. But the question is how? Here are the things I’m trying to do according to this (other) article:

1. Keep my goals small. I need to train for a marathon and want to get back into a regular habit of running but sometimes (as well all know), life can get in the way. If I can start small – with a goal of 2-3 miles for a couple times a week, the task wouldn’t be too hard and it will give me the time to push through the uncomfortable aspects of the sport if you haven’t been doing it for a while.

2. Find my anchor. I’ve done enough running to know that I HATE doing it in the morning (unless it’s a race) and get the most enjoyment out of my runs in the late afternoons. It is relaxing to me to spend a little time just exercising at the end of a long day. Plus, I hate being cold. In the early morning hours, I prefer yoga. I love it at that time because it wakes me up and give me a sense of space, purpose, and resolve to accomplish everything I need for that day. But in order to do yoga in the morning and run in the afternoon (at work), I need to remember to pack my gym bag. So finding an anchor is looking for a precise action that will trigger my “packing/prepping” a gym bag (which will set myself up for success the next day). So my achor is “brushing my teeth” – after I brush my teeth, I will pack my gym bag (or check on it). Having this anchor will ensure that I am ready for my fitness goals the next day.

3. Force myself to celebrate. I don’t know about you but I’m one of those people who are extra critical on myself. People have always told me your worst enemy is yourself…and I believed it so much that I often can only see what I didn’t do, what I didn’t do well, what I had failed to do, etc. I know that sounds exhausting and it is somewhat difficult being me. So I’m forcing myself to celebrate me. Not in a big way, of course. But when I head out for a short run (even if I had planne do a longer run), I will say to myself, hey good job, you got out! One step closer to being able to run that marathon. I will not say (instead), oh you suck, you only ran 2 miles when you had planned for 5!! You’re falling short of your goal!!

4. Accept failures (and don’t magnify them). For some people more than others, failure (or falling-short) is a tough pilll to swallow. We all react differently from it, too. I’ve never felt confident about my school stuff – all those years of being criticised about my writing is not good enough, I’m not doing enough work (I’m a PhD Candidate in xxx by the way) has seriously gotten to me really bad in the past 2 years. But very recently, while talking to a new friend about my journey through the academic world (since I was in college – where I went and what I studies) she said “oh wow, you’ve been sailing smoothly all your life through school.” Really?! I spent the last two years of my life thinking I’m not good enough and allowed such dark thoughts eat away my confidence at accomplishing my final goal. But in the eyes of another, I’ve not done so bad. Of course, perspective is contextual so who knows why my new friend percieves my journey thus far as “smooth sailing” even though I feel like I’m always hanging in anticipation of the next storm while dipping my oars in choppy water…but the point is this: there will be failures in life but see what went wrong and keep going. Get stronger, get better, find new tools – don’t dwell on it. One small setback is not synonymous to a lifetime of failures. In the grand scheme of things, those are the nuggets that make us better and stronger. So yeah, the road to forming good work and fitness habits won’t be smooth sailing but keep at it and someday I might get there.

We’re only 2 days away from a brand new year. We can also use this time of reflection to center our goals and get to it. There are only a few times when we feel that we can start with a (semi)clean slate – so let’s make the best of this beautiful mentality!


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