Back to school means back to routine, which makes autumn a great time to start afresh. In fact, now might be the best time to create new habits that will last longer than any New Year’s Resolution ever will.
Resolutions made in January are notoriously hard to keep, but understanding the nature of habits is the best way to start. While there is no dearth of information out there, we are often faced with conflicting theories and an overwhelming amount of data, which can be confusing and time-consuming to sift through.
“Understanding how our brain works is key,” wellness coach and state-registered nutritionist Corinne Zaffarese Elbourne says.
“Studies have shown a connection between deteriorating mental health and unhealthy eating patterns, such as snacking and skipping meals. To make matters worse, the fast food we consume for comfort is normally very high in sodium and particularly palatable, which makes us crave more.”
Although the cycle may seem impossible to break, Zaffarese Elbourne believes that following a few key science-backed methods discussed here can ensure long-lasting good habits.
1. The five-second rule. This theory, made popular by author Mel Robbins, maintains that when counting down from five to one, we break unconscious habit loops and can then replace them with more intentional decisions. Put simply, this little trick prevents our brain from overthinking.
“This rule can be a game-changer. When struggling with an unhealthy craving, count back from five to one. This short pause can shift your mindset, helping you make a healthier choice,” the wellness coach says.
“Another way to practise this is by setting a specific time for a home workout. You will almost certainly be tempted to tackle some chore at that precise moment, so when that happens, count down from five and, when you reach one, drop that laundry basket and put on your workout gear – just like a rocket launching at lift-off.”
2. Habit stacking. This research-backed technique uses existing habits as a base for building new ones.
Slowly, you can start breaking old habits
“It’s easy to decide that you will start exercising every morning before work, but unless this becomes a habit, the likelihood of it being part of your everyday routine is slim,” Zaffarese Elbourne points out. “Instead, you can use habit stacking to make it an almost unconscious part of your daily life. For instance, while your morning coffee brews, use those otherwise empty in-between moments to prepare a healthy breakfast, or squeeze in a quick workout before taking your morning shower. This works because your morning cup of coffee and your daily shower are habits that you are already accustomed to. Linking new habits to old ones creates a stronger, interconnected routine.”
3. Use technology to your advantage. Your phone can be one of the most useful tools in setting yourself up for success. Tools like nutrition tracking apps provide real-time insights into dietary habits, helping you stay on track. You can also set digital reminders to reinforce good habits, like a prompt to drink water or to prepare meals for the week ahead.
Other devices can help in different ways.
“Use your smartwatch to track your steps and create goals. The rush of dopamine every time you hit a target will motivate you to keep up the good work,” Zaffarese Elbourne says.
4. Know your brain. The basal ganglia is an area of the brain that plays an important role in cultivating new habits. Once you start performing a habit you have acquired, the part of the brain responsible for taking decisions goes to sleep, making way for the basal ganglia to take over.
“If you always have a cookie with your afternoon coffee, this pattern becomes ingrained and hard to break. You will automatically have a cookie without thinking twice about it,” the wellness coach explains.
“Next time this happens, ask yourself whether you are doing it out of habit and if it’s something you can do without. Slowly, you can start breaking old habits and train your brain to choose differently.”
5. Community and support. The power of community is something Zaffarese Elbourne is very familiar wit h, having made it an integral part of her fitness programme MIVERBO.
“Join a health programme or forum, either local or online,” she suggests. “Such spaces offer unparalleled support and guidance.”
6. Professional guidance. Swapping a cookie for an apple is not always the solution to someone’s health and fitness troubles. This is where a more individual approach can make all the difference.
“When in doubt, a registered nutritionist can offer tailored advice, ensuring your efforts are directed effectively. Using what we know about our brain can simplify creating new habits for a healthier lifestyle. Prioritise your health today, one small habit at a time,” Zaffarese Elbourne recommends.
Join Corinne Zaffarese Elbourne’s next holistic fitness programme, starting on October 11, by getting in touch through the MIVERBO Facebook page, or via Instagram @miverbo_bycora, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.