From sloth to gazelle:
5 tips to successfully change and keep new habits
Have you ever wanted to change a habit or introduce a new one? Do you want to know how to make that new habit stick?
Over the last few years I’ve gone from sloth to gazelle. On that journey I picked up some practical hints and tips that work. You can easily apply these lessons to help you succeed with that change and make it stick.
“You would really like running”. My partner use to say to me regularly. Not me I thought. My story told me that running was not for me. In fact I was too cool for School. Running wasn’t cool, I wouldn’t even run for a bus. Much easier to wait for the next one.
Then came the glorious summer of 2012. The motto of the London Olympics that summer was “Inspire a generation”, I don’t think they meant 51 year old men however that’s what happened. I still don’t know why but at that time I turned to my partner and said “OK, I’ll come for a run with you”.
I loved it.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. There was the rain, the wind and not to mention my body. But I persevered. So 8 years later and two and half stone lighter I run 4 to 5 times a week, every week. Happily running through the woods and hills of the South Downs, I am almost alone apart from the odd nod to horse riders, occasional fellow runners, sheep, cows and deer…
From early April 2020 all of that changed, slowly at first but then increasingly, I found myself joined by new faces. The phenomena that is the lockdown runner had joined me. Over the weeks more and more joined; people plodding along country paths that a month earlier they never knew existed. And not just runners but people clad in Lycra on mountain bikes dusted down from garages and sheds.
As happy as it makes me that in the midst of a major health crises the country seems to be keeping itself fit by running my paths, part of me misses the solitude that I used to have on my run.
Will they keep it up?
I’m not sure I want them to.
Simple hints & tips to help change habits
However, in the spirit of supporting learning I thought I’d share things I have learned from taking up running. These are simple hints and tips that helped me and can be applied to any change of habit, whatever it is.
- Take small steps at a time and then do them again and again and again;
For me, when I first started running I did a 15 minute jog, walk, and jog up my local hill and then 15 minutes down again. And then did it again the next day. And again the next. Taking small steps and repeating them as regularly as possibly helped to ingrain the new habit. It’s important that these initial steps are achievable and realistic with a bit of a push to start you. Running hurts.
- Set yourself a target;
Quite soon after starting I booked myself onto a 10 k race. I was realistic about when I thought I would be ready (I gave myself 6 months to go from zero to hero, well at least coming 345th out of nearly 700 starters, I was a hero in my eyes). Having something to aim for keeps you going and when you get there the feeling is great …you want to repeat that feeling. I have now run nearly 40 races in the last 8 years. Whatever it is, have a target.
3. Have a way of measuring progress using some external measurement:
I love numbers in any form so having a running watch that then gave me split times, charts, graphs; I was in heaven. Having something external that shows you progress is a great motivator. It may be slow and not always in the right direction, however, if you are following hint 1 you will get there. The boost you get when you see the change keeps you going and drives you on to achieve more.
4. Imagine yourself doing it:
Visualisation. We’ve all heard the word however only when I took up running did I actually understand how important it is in changing habits. In my case going from seeing myself as not running, to seeing myself running, to seeing myself as a runner. I visualise myself running the routes before I run them, seeing myself on the start line of a race, seeing myself cross the finish line. Whatever it is that you are doing, see yourself do it. See yourself on the steps of the journey. See yourself get to your own personal finish line.
5. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate:
Not just when you achieve your first target, although the champagne I had after my first race has never tasted sweeter, but along the way as you go. Small celebrations after each little step you take really help. Reward yourself, you deserve it.
Will the new runners and cyclists all be out there with me in 6 months time in the cold and rain? Will it be a change that sticks? Who knows ?…part of me hopes not and part of me hopes so. Will the new habits we have all set up over the last few strange months stick? The think tank Demos have set up a People Commission on Life after Covid-19 to explore people’s experiences and identify what may happen next.
Whatever happens, I know these 5 tips worked for me and I hope they will help you with whatever change small or large that you are making.
If you have found my tips useful, do share your successes with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .