We all have them: habits – good ones, bad ones, ones that seem neutral. We have habits that serve our goals and some that don’t. Habits can appear to wield ultimate power over our choices and decisions, but I’ve discovered that in actuality, they don’t. It’s just the story we’re telling ourselves and others.

In January, Tom and I committed to a 30-day cleanse called Whole30. The idea is to remove all foods that tend to cause inflammation in the body and typically give people trouble. Then, you gauge how you feel. No dairy, legumes, peanuts, sugar, grains, soy, or alcohol. Just a 30-day diet full of whole, healthy foods including meat, fish, veggies, fruit, nuts, eggs, and healthy oils. The idea is that after 30 days, you add these off-limit foods back into your diet one at a time to see how you feel and which of these are causing you the most trouble.

Talk about breaking habits! Over the years, Tom and I had settled into a nightly routine of cheese and crackers while we were cooking dinner together accompanied by a beer or two. Then, we enjoyed a bottle of wine over dinner followed by cookies and an occasional Bailey’s nightcap. It had become our cozy, enjoyable, daily habit with only one problem… we just didn’t feel good.

We weren’t sleeping well, had increasing joint pain, gained weight, and felt like our minds were foggy much of the day without lots of coffee to wake us up. All of this contributed to feeling less and less inclined to get in our daily exercise. Pretty soon we found ourselves over-worked and over-weight. We had clearly developed habits that weren’t serving us, either physically or emotionally.

We knew what we needed to do. We even spent time talking about it, but ultimately the healthier habits just didn’t sound as good as the ones we had and seemed way too hard. I honestly didn’t think I could give up my wine and cheese and told that to myself and anyone else who would listen. That’s where we were wrong. We soon learned some lessons about changing habits that we’ll use now to conquer anything in our lives we want to improve in the future.

1)  Short-term benchmarks for long-term change. Making a big change is hard at first. It just is, especially if you’ve been doing it that way for a long time. So, we planned for “hard” in the beginning and set some small short-term benchmarks to work toward instead of thinking about the entire 30-day commitment. We knew we didn’t want to be on the diet boomerang. If we were going to do this, we’d rather go slowly, discovering and developing a way we could live for the rest of our lives.

2)  Support. We both agreed that it was invaluable to have each other as support. When one was weak, the other stepped up. When one was down, the other infused a sense of humor and encouragement.

3)  Prep. In our case it was food prep that made ALL the difference. Tom packed me salads for my plane rides when I traveled and daily bags of pre-prepped foods for when I was hungry or without healthy options. But even if your change is not health-related, prepping for success and pre-planning for those eventual moments where you might revert back to the old ways is essential.

4)  Discovery. We literally didn’t know what we didn’t know. We didn’t know how much sugar was in our bacon, mayo, mustard, spaghetti sauce, mixed nuts, and salsa (seriously!). But, we discovered delicious, sugar-free versions of all these as well as grain-free chips, flours, and crackers. Without the change, we would have never found what has now become a staple for us. Good to know that in developing any new habits, you’ll discover some new ways or tools you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

5)  Patience and victories. We found we had to be patient with our progress. After that first hard week, our taste buds had changed, and we were looking forward to meals, snacks, and exercise that we hadn’t in the past. Our skin and our minds cleared, joints felt better, and we noticed our jeans zipping up just a bit easier. It felt good to celebrate those little victories along the way.

6)  Goal-Focused. On our daily walks and workouts, Tom and I focused our conversations on the “why” of our habit change. We met late in life, and we want more time together, seeing the world and enjoying rich experiences. To have that, we have to be healthy and energetic. Staying focused on our long-term “why” and keeping it active in our conversations really helped to make the work of the change lighter and more doable.

Whether you’re changing your diet, the way you parent, an organizational tactic, or a new communication tool, try applying these six principles to be more successful long term. After all, isn’t that why we’re doing it – to develop a better, sustainable habit that will soon feel like the normal way you do business or live your life?

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily.
The secret to your success is found in your daily routine.”
~~John Maxwell

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