It’s not so bad to be a creature of habit – in fact, there’s unmatched power in healthy habits. Habit is truly the precursor to holistic health, providing scientifically proven physical, emotional and psychological health benefits. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that individuals who adopted just five healthy habits were tracking towards a significantly longer life expectancy than those who adopted none. A popular study published in The Lancet Psychiatry suggested that changes to our sleep-wake cycle are, “reliably associated with various adverse mental health and wellbeing [sic] outcomes, including major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.”
The science is inarguable – habits matter. But where do we even begin? Here’s where health coaches can help. Health coaches take stock of their clients’ lives to figure out where sustainable, healthy habits can be successfully slotted in. They tap into intrinsic motivations to ensure these actions become regular until, with time, they become bona fide, long-term habits. Especially as summer winds down, along with unpredictable schedules and temperatures, it’s never been a better time to fall back into healthy habits.
Here are some effective ways health coaches make habits happen:
Habits through association
The New York Times recently shed light on habit stacking, a tactic that associates new habits to existing ones – with huge successes! Health coaches can help identify patterns in your daily routine to figure out where to build out new habits effortlessly and fruitfully. With fall comes the back-to-school season, for many of us, so habit stacking could mean meal prepping a healthy lunch for yourself while you pack lunches for your kids. Taking your dog for a morning walk could be a good chance to meet half of your daily step goal.
The 66-day rule
Here’s the thing – yes a 2009 study did suggest that 66 days is the average threshold required for a behavior to reach “automaticity.” Here’s the other thing – as health coaches, we know there’s never truly a one-size-fits-all approach to anything, especially not in matters of health! Where the 66-day rule can be helpful though, is in setting a clear goal post for consistency. When we commit to 66 days of action, on the 67th day, momentum is on our side. Health coaches can help tap into this momentum, known scientifically as intrinsic motivation, to make our daily healthy choices into healthy habits.
Identify and shift your mindset
Another powerful psychological paradigm comes from Stanford Researcher Carol Dweck, who pioneered the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.” The fixed mindset believes that our traits and abilities are finite and unmalleable. The growth mindset thoroughly believes in progress and plasticity. As unique, imperfect humans, we all may display fixed or growth mindsets in different situations. Health coaches inspire a growth mindset even when it feels foreign. Coaches transform, I’ve never been able to lose a single pound. It’s just impossible for my body to lose any weight, to I haven’t lost much weight in the past, but if I truly commit to a nutrition and exercise plan that’s right for me, I could reach my goal weight.
It feels almost rudimentary, almost impossibly oversimplifying, to equate habits to healthfulness. But that exact suspicion is what leads so many of us (and our doctors) to focus more on reactive solutions than preventative, proactive solutions. Health coaching is built on the principle that the most rewarding investments are those we build through (self-)interest. It’s the tiny deposits we make to maintain our health that compound over time, seemingly small moments we spend on ourselves that have an immeasurable impact down the line.