How to make healthy changes stick

Whether it’s Dry January, Sober October, Whole 30 or any kind of challenge where you have to give something up or keep a healthy new habit going, completing it is a real achievement.

Whether it was alcohol, caffeine, sugar, chocolate, crisps, smoking or something else entirely you were abstaining from, you may have noticed you feel better having done so. So, if the time period is over but you’re enjoying the rewards, why stop now?

However you got started with the challenge, if you’ve found positives in making these changes you might want to keep going, but lasting change can feel tricky to maintain. Here’s how to make it easier.

1. Look at change as an opportunity, not a restriction
Bestselling author Michaela Weaver, aka The Alcohol Coach (thealcoholcoach.com), has been helping people kick their dependence on drink for almost a decade. “Challenging ourselves to give up something we love or depend on can remind us to look at our lifestyle and ask questions about what we need to change,” says Ms Weaver. “It is the inward reflection that prompts us to think about the benefits of change, and then to start.”

Read: Ways to relax without alcohol

And connecting with the benefits of those changes is key. After all, if you view the change you’ve made as a barrier to happiness, it’ll never feel quite right.

In Ms Weaver’s case, giving up alcohol after realising she had a toxic relationship with it, opened up a wealth of new opportunities for her. “When we are empowered by choice, we can grow into the changes we seek, as we expand away from previous habits and into the future that we want for ourselves,” she says.

A lifestyle change should not make you feel like you cannot do what you want to do, or you’ll be missing out on enjoyment. What are the positive rewards – will it mean you can ultimately do more and enjoy more by not doing something that doesn’t feel healthy for you? You may be giving something up, but the focus should be on the power you are gaining.

2. Don’t be afraid of failure – everybody slips up
During such challenges, there can be a lot of pressure to be 100 per cent ‘perfect’ at giving something up, or cutting something out entirely overnight. But to be sustainable in the long run, you may need a more moderate approach – otherwise, cravings may derail you completely, or you might give up if you feel like you’ve ‘failed’.

Taking on a 30-day challenge is a great way to build a new set of habits or start better habits. But this challenge could also be to cut down on something, not completely cut it out. For example, only drinking alcohol at weekends, or only having dessert one day each week. These types of challenges place the focus on showing up, even if it is with consistent imperfect action.

Read: When healthy habits go wrong

Making sure your environment is pro-change will also help as motivation often starts out strong but wanes as time goes on. If you want to drink more water, always have a water bottle on your desk. If you want to reduce snacking on less nutritious things, make sure they aren’t in the house.

3. Celebrate your determination
Cravings are a natural part of giving something up that you have enjoyed for a long time. Whether it’s alcohol, chocolate or meat, giving something up will inevitably lead to cravings for that thing you miss.

But, the longer you persevere, the easier it will get – and you should absolutely celebrate your success by finding new ways to reward yourself for your triumphs.

Speaker, therapist and bestselling author Marisa Peer (marisapeer.com) says: “Your tastebuds rewire every 10 days. It takes 30 days to build a habit, but when we keep something going, it stops being a habit and becomes who you are.”

And she believes it really does start with mindset: “Every habit of action is run by a habit of thought. When you change the way you think, you change your actions.”

Read: Eight things I learnt from giving up sugar

People are often reluctant to celebrate their wins – but Ms Peer says it’s an  important part of the process. “Praise builds self-esteem, we have to praise ourselves for what we do,” she says. “We have to take a minute to be really proud of ourselves. When you finish something, you feel amazing – focus on the achievement and wins and you’ll do more of that good thing.”

– With PA

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