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Top tips to create new habits

I've been posting a lot of info recently on ways to improve health, through diet, excerise, time in nature, managing stress. But one of the top questions I answer as a doctor is : 'how do I actually do it'?! Ie if knowledge was all we needed, many of us would be far healthier

  • One of my aims in creating the simplicity doctor, is to make change and wellness simple and achievable (hence the name )

  • Behaviour psychology is an intriguing field, looking at how to make and sustain changes, and I've tried to sum up some of the main points I use in my clinics

  • The biggest factors I've found that help people make and sustain change are - make changes simple, and start small - find a change you actually enjoy - create a trigger, to form a habit - plan for failure, and how you will manage it


  • People often start change with the best they have all the enthusiasm and motivation Only to have them fail a few weeks /months down the track. Then we punish ourselves for failing, and give up because it didn't work

  • Finding an easy simple place to start is far better than trying to change everything at once, as you're far more likely to stick with it!! Ie rather than trying to eat perfectly, start with aiming for a couple of changes to start with. It can be as simple as choosing one or two of the following: - eating an extra serving of fruit/Vege each day, - having 1 meatless meal per week - cutting out/reducing sugar in your coffee - having a piece of fruit and some nuts, or a square of dark chocolate, rather than a bikkie - switching a sugary drink for a herbal tea -finding a meal you enjoy, where you can switch refined carbs for wholegrain (ie brown rice instead of white, wholegrain bread instead of white)

  • Then create a goal of trialling this, and a time frame ie 2 weeks, then see how you go

  • Success is a ripple effect - if you succeed with the first step, you feel better, get that sense of success, and know you can do it.

  • Then you move to the next step - before you know it you've made massive changes, one small step at a time!!

  • Many people try to change too much too quickly, then feel that they won't ever succeed - it's one of the most common traps


  • Far too often people do things because they think it's the right thing to do, or have been told they need to. But they actually don't enjoy them

  • Studies have shown that people are far more likely to stick to a new behaviour, if they enjoy it, and if they are doing it for an intrinsic reason (ie to have more energy, improve mental health, sleep better, improve aches and pains)

  • Whether it's exercise, stress management, or nutrition, focus on finding changes that you actually like, and that make you feel better!!

  • For example, with nutrition, think of something you'd like to change (ie cutting out sugary drinks), and think of a substitute that you enjoy, that replaces this (ie herbal tea, lemon and water, kefir etc).

  • Substitution works far better than elimination, as it relies less on willpower

  • Focus on either substituting healthy for unhealthy foods, or adding in more healthy ones (rather than just cutting stuff out).

  • This makes it a positive rather than negative change, which humans respond far better to

  • Excerise wise, think of something you enjoy doing, then set a goal of doing it that you can start with - it can be as little as 10min/day, again for a couple of weeks

  • Be realistic (ie what are you likely to do, rather than what you'd like to eventually do), as this makes you far more likely to do it

  • Things like walking, cycling, yoga, stretches, swimming, dancing etc - anything that gets you moving

  • If you struggle with this due to time /work, then try building it into your existing routine ie - park the car 10min from work and walk; - try cycling to work instead of driving -go out for a walk at lunch to a cafe further away than usual to get your coffee - do a quick workout in your lunch break when you'd normally browse your phone (even a 5 min resistance workout or stretching session helps)

  • Again set yourself a short term goal initially ie to do it for x number of days /week for 2 weeks, and start there

  • Doing things regularly builds habit - around 50% of our day is doing activities by habit rather than deliberate intention!!

  • For stress, try setting aside 5min/day at a regular time (ie on waking /before bed /in the shower etc) where you do something that makes you feel calmer.

  • It can be breathing excerises, slow stretches, meditation, listening to calm music etc - the key is to help you switch off the stress response for just a few minutes - it's far more effective than you think!!

  • Keep track of how you feel after doing this for a couple of weeks, if its working set a goal for a few more weeks, if its not helping then try a different exercise


  • Habits are far easier to start, if you link new activities with existing ones Think of brushing your teeth - most people do this automatically at the same time of the day

  • Adding a new habit to one you already do means you're far less likely to forget!! Then once you've been doing it for a while you'll start to do it out of habit, and new behaviour is set.

  • Ie try having a healthy snack with your morning tea cup of tea /coffee, rather than a biscuit Try doing 3 minutes of slow breathing while in the shower (breathe in 3 seconds, hold 4 seconds, breathe out 5 seconds, then repeat). Or every time you're stopped at traffic lights Or every time you look at Facebook or emails Doing a short meditation or gratitude practice when your alarm goes off sets your day in a positive frame of mind Walking or biking the kids to school rather than driving gives you all excerise, creates a bonding time, and avoids the stress of parking!!


  • We know that even the best intentions fail eventually - think of new years resolutions Studies of long term behaviour change have shown that people who make changes and stick to them, are those who plan for failure

  • When trying to implement a new behaviour, try to start it at a time of day when you think you're most likely to do it Statistically, people are most likely to 'give in' to temptation at 330 pm and 830pm!!

  • Being aware of this, and planning for it, can make a big difference. Ie try change your morning tea snack rather than your afternoon tea one first, try planning excerise earlier in the day rather than in the evening once it's dark etc

  • Have a plan of what you'll do when you fail, and how you'll get back on track Ie if you've done well with eating /exercise for a few weeks, then have a major blowout one day, rather than giving up, think of how you can get back on track the next day Think of what situations you are mostly like to fail in, and plan in advance how you'll deal with this ie while travelling away from home /staying with friends or family /attending a work function are all common ones

  • Simple changes can literally transform your life - just take it one small step at a time, and you'll never look back

Dr rangan chatterjee has some excellent books and podcasts dealing with behaviour change

Dr heather mckee is a behaviour change specialist who has a great free online course and some resources into how to make effective behaviour changes This is a great podcast where she talks about behaviour change

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