Old habits die hard.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
We are creatures of habit.
We have more than enough sayings and plenty of hard evidence that show just how difficult it is to change old habits and stick with a new ones. But fear not! New habits can be made and eventually become part of your everyday routine.
You may have heard that it takes 21 days to set a new habit. But guess what? It's not true. Well, not exactly true. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, with an average of 66 days, according to more recent research that followed 96 people over 12 weeks. (Source) Here's what else the research revealed: messing up now and then doesn't affect whether or not you can create a new habit!
There's no magic time frame or formula for creating a new habit, like "eating more fruits and vegetables during pregnancy" -- it's a process and you are the one responsible for the work. There are however, several things you can do and strategies you can put in place, to help yourself be more successful with habit building. Take a look at steps you can take to help yourself stick with new healthy pregnancy habits.
How to Create Healthy New Habits in Pregnancy
Start with why. Why are you creating new healthy habits? Your reasons matter. Get specific, write them down, and revisit them often. When you know your "why," you remember why you get up early to exercise or choose a side salad over french fries.
Get specific. Write out your detailed intentions for getting healthy, including the what, where, when, and how. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to follow through because you will have a plan for how you will achieve your habit. For example: "I will eat vegetables with one meal each day, while at work. I will pack a salad or buy a salad at [Nearby Deli]." Also, plan for how you will track your success, which could be as simple as marking an X each day in your calendar.
Plan for changes and flexibility. Of course, there may be days when you forget to pack a lunch and your office has a working lunch with pizza on the menu. In times like this, you don't have to let unexpected changes derail your healthy habit. Create if/then contingencies, like: "If I miss eating a salad at lunch during the workday, I will include a salad with my dinner. "
Make success easier. What kinds of things do you need to be successful? In the vegetable eating scenario, consider how you will alter your grocery shopping habits, if you have the right reusable containers, what kind of salad dressing you like best, and who you will want to eat with for lunch and where. If your healthy habit is to walk for 20 minutes each day after getting home from work, consider where you will walk, if you will ask someone to join you, if you have comfortable shoes and clothes to wear for exercise, and whether you might enjoy listening to your favorite music, an audio book, or a podcast during your walk.
Buddy up. Reach out to a friend, partner, family member, or neighbor to pair up with your new healthy habits goals. Ideally, find someone who shares similar goals, or at the very least will join you for your walks or share their favorite vegetable recipes. Your accountability partner should be someone that will be willing to check in with you on your progress and who will motivate and encourage you to stay or get back on track.
Tie it to an existing habit. Think of several things you do throughout the day, no matter what. Think of how you might tie your new healthy habit to an existing one. For example, if you already pack a daily lunch and snacks for work, packing a container of raw carrots and cucumber, for example, can easily be added to your habit. If you finish all your veggies at work, add in a piece of dark chocolate to reward yourself.
Reward yourself for smaller achievements. Did you hit one week of eating a salad every day? Treat yourself to a movie or a new book (or something else that you love). Did you hit four weeks straight of eating a salad at least 5 days a week? Go get a massage (or something else that feels "big"). Plan at the beginning of your new habit journey what and how you will reward yourself for meeting your goals. While it's true that the new habit is in itself a reward, we humans tend to be motivated better when we have tangible rewards along the way.
Allow mistakes, forget the guilt. Most likely, you're going to get off track. Nearly everyone does when making big changes. Instead of berating yourself for the mistakes, allow yourself the space to mess up without layering on guilt and self loathing. Admit it, then move on, back in the direction of your original goals.
Creating -- and keeping -- new habits is hard and possible. Arm yourself with the facts and the tools you need to make success within your reach.