There's a lot of talk about why habit change is the cornerstone of improving your health. But so many people struggle when it comes to making the changes.
Do you struggle with changing your habits? Here’s why.
Let’s start out with the definition of a habit. A habit, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a "settled tendency or usual manner of behavior." One of the hallmarks of a habit is that these behaviors have become nearly or completely involuntary. Habits, unfortunately can be both good or bad. Our goal is to tap in to those good habits that set us up for optimal health and overall success.
We all seek to change something about our health, whether it is drinking more water, kicking sugar to the curb, or doing a complete lifestyle overhaul. Most of us cannot rely on sheer willpower alone, that’s why we need habits, which help us by reducing the “activation energy” required to complete these tasks.
Yet many of us struggle with making lasting habit change in our lives. A “one size fits all” strategy for habit change just won’t work for the majority of people. As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and an Upholder, I have seriously struggled in advising those who are not my same tendency. I have gone through many “lightning bolt” experiences and then just changed my habits overnight. Upholders can do this.
Creating lasting habits can be that easy for you, too, so long as you take your tendency into account.
CONSIDER YOUR PERSONALITY WHEN FORMING HABITS
Most people tend to just decide on a list of things to change, and then begin to implement the changes, without taking their own personality into consideration. That is precisely why new habits consistently fail. To make something habitual, you need to determine how to implement habits in a realistic way that matches up with the way you meet expectations, according to Gretchen Rubin. Rubin is a former lawyer turned author whose main topic is human nature.
There are two types of expectations we all need to meet on a daily basis:
- Inner expectations: in which you are only accountable to yourself for keeping them, ex: New Year’s Resolutions, writing a novel, etc.
- Outer expectations: in which you are accountable to others, ex: turning in a report on time to your boss, following traffic laws, etc.
The Four Tendencies
The different ways we respond to internal and external expectations shape people into four "Tendencies", Gretchen discovered. People typically fall into the category of Upholder, Obliger, Questioner or Rebel. Before you read on, discover your tendency, take the quiz here.
Upholders respond readily to both outer and inner expectations. I, Carly, am an Upholder.
Upholders tend to have the easiest time meeting expectations, but we can still struggle with lack of motivation, and the desire to excel at every task we take on.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as an Upholder:
- Clearly articulating your goals, don’t waver. “I will avoid gluten for this 30-day period”. Once you decide on a course of action, it is much easier to follow through.
- Set yourself up for success, meal-prepping, meal-planning, grocery lists, and budgeting are your best friends. As an Upholder you’re not likely to cave and order pizza when doing a gluten-free challenge. But it’ll make the experience of change much less stressful if you’re prepared.
- Beware of tightening, as Gretchen often mentions, sometimes the rules get stricter for Upholders as time passes. For me personally, I had a “lightning bolt” moment (see this post) regarding a low-carb diet and diabetes and haven’t eaten starchy carbs, sugar, or any fruit other than berries in the past 3 years.
- Post a habits sheet on the back of your bedroom or bathroom door and add your desired habit to it. As an Upholder, I will basically do anything for a “gold star” and perfect record, even if no one else will see it. You can also use a habits app, but I'm more visual so this works better for me.
- Remember that your instinct for self-preservation is a strength. I used to worry that I said “no” too often, for example: if working or babysitting, I refuse to stay after a certain time. But this is my way of keeping my health intact and being my happiest self, so why should I feel guilty about that?
- Embrace your ability to get things done when you want to do them, but know when to rest.
Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.
Both Kristen and Casey Poe, NTP, of Good and Well Boulder, are Obligers. In fact, a majority of the population falls into this category. If you are not personally an obliger, the chances are you know many. So, it definitely benefits you to know how they tick.
A few strategies for Obligers are:
- Creating outer accountability "I used to beat myself up all the time for not being able to stick with a habit. I started the Whole 30 by myself more times than I care to admit, but didn't actually finish one until I did it with a group of people. When times "got hard" I wouldn't cave because I could not let the group down. The same goes for working out, I am MUCH better in group settings or hiring a coach. When I had a triathlon coach I would religiously do my workouts because he would have to adjust my schedule if I missed a workout and I didn't want to create more work for him."
- Future self strategy: "I imagine if I constantly "cheat" I will regret it later, it sounds dramatic but I picture myself in the hospital in really bad shape. That always makes me put down the cookie! Another strategy that I use is to be held accountable to my gut bacteria, I imagine them with smiley faces and they get sad if I make poor food choices. No one likes sad bacteria!"
- Kristen likes to set up outside accountability by partnering up with people on projects that are important to her. She will always complete a deadline if she knows someone is waiting for her. Otherwise, it just gets put on the back burner for lack of time.
Questioners question all expectations, and they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense. Kim Jordan, NTP, of Root and Branch Nutrition chimes in here to contribute her thoughts on how her questioner tendency has affected her habits.
- Journaling and goal-setting at the beginning of each month (specific, measurable, focused goals, with steps to achieve them).
- "I find that with questioners, speaking objectively and providing lots of information and support is key. They want all of the info on what is expected of them and want to learn the “why”, but their perfectionism and desire to know everything can discourage them from actually taking action. So teaching them, and helping them to set goals and create a specific plan is beneficial."
- "Creating an environment of positivity and most importantly, allowing for choice is key. Checking in often and asking about challenges they are facing also helps to avoid overwhelm and create some clarity around what they can be doing to succeed. And teaching questioners how to find some balance in their diet and lifestyle, makes an immense difference for their overall health!"
Rebels resist all expectations, inner and outer alike. Rebels are the rarest of the four tendencies. Two rebels in the Paleo/ancestral health community dustry are Leanne Vogel from Healthful Pursuit, and Diane Sanfilippo from Balanced Bites. Kara Halderman, NTP, is also a rebel, and shares her experiences here.
"Identifying that I’m a rebel has given me insight into why I procrastinate SO much! I used to think I was lazy and constantly beat myself up for it; but in actuality, I was rebelling against everyone’s expectations of me. Especially my own. Now when I catch myself procrastinating I’m about to identify I’m rebelling and give myself reasons why it would be beneficial for me to do it."
A few more tips for rebels:
Being a rebel is a double-edged sword in many respects. A rebel can do anything they wish to do, however, if someone asks them or tries to force them to do something, it will make them less likely to do it.
The traditional "New Year's Resolutions" almost never work in these cases. So, how can a rebel make a change in their life, if they will resist even self-imposed goals? The strategy of identity, according to Rubin. If the habit contributes to the person's identity, such as being healthy/a good parent/ spouse, it is much easier for the rebel to embrace. If the Rebel identifies as being a health-conscious person, for example, it is much easier to maintain that habit.
SET SOME GOALS USING YOUR TENDENCY
In conclusion, when you create your goal list for this year be sure to identify your tendency and incorporate it into your planning. Learning my tendency helped me tremendously to understand myself and identify the steps I need to take to form good habits that stick. Remember, it takes 3 weeks to form a good habit and 90 days for it to be a new routine. So, give yourself grace and time on your journey toward optimal health.
Share your tendency and how has it helped you to improve your quality of life in the comments, especially if you are a rebel. As always, any questions or comments are welcome, we would LOVE to hear from you 🙂