Habits – how to form good habits and make them stick

Dr. Liz Borham

May 02, 2017

Every day in our clinics we’re talking about habits – exercise, sitting, sleeping, diet, alcohol intake – and how these habits have an impact on how that body feels, functions and moves. And every day people tell me “I meant to go to the gym but I just didn’t get there” or “I started off the week with good intentions but then stuffed it all up on Friday night”.

We all know what we need to do, right? Exercise, eat well, sleep well. Even getting your twice-weekly or twice-monthly adjustment is a good habit to form. So how come it’s so easy NOT to do those things, and to let life get in the way? And how come it’s so easy to let good intentions go by the wayside? I recently listened to a podcast from Carly Jacobs and Kelly Exeter from “Straight and Curly[1]” about how to form good habits and the tips and tricks really resonated with me.

It’s a commonly held belief by many that to form a habit, you just have to do it for a period of time (usually 21 days) and then the habit sticks. But the reality is, that hardly ever happens. Habit forming is not magic, there are some simple ways to really help you do the things you know you want and need to do. And why have good habits, anyway? Because my chiropractor tells me to? Yes, but good habits are about setting yourself up for success. For making it easy to be successful in what you want to achieve, be it good posture, better health, weight loss, better diet, work promotion, and so on.

Everyone is different and the differences in people’s personalities, tendencies, and the way they respond to requests all affect the way you are able to make and keep habits. Gretchen Rubin is an author on a range of self-development topics, and developed the “Four Tendencies” framework[2]. She says that in order to change your habits, you first have to figure out yourself. Forming a new habit is setting an expectation for yourself – and in order to change a habit, you have to understand how you respond to expectations. The Four Tendencies framework describes four different ways of responding to expectations: as an Upholder, a Questioner, an Obliger or as a Rebel.

(You can take an online quiz to figure out your tendency. Here it is:http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3163256/Gretchen-Rubin-s-Quiz-The-Four-Tendencies-Fall2016)

Expectations can be outer expectations – road rules, work deadlines, uniforms – or inner expectations – give up sugar, exercise every day, watch less tv. Outer expectations are placed on you by others. Inner expectations are placed on you by yourself. Your tendency describes the way you respond to the different kind of expectations.

Upholders respond to both outer and inner expectations. They are able to easily meet both the goals they tell the world about, and goals that only they know about. They are both people pleasers, and are “self improvement junkies”, as the Straight and Curly girls call it.

Obligers meet outer expectations, but they resist inner expectations. They find it easy to keep goals that are visible to others, but not those where no-one else keeps them accountable. They find it hard to meet self-imposed goals. They are very good at meeting school, uni and work deadlines but less good at keeping their house tidy – unless someone is coming over to visit!

Questioners resist outer expectations and meet inner expectations. They will not do something just to keep someone happy. Questioners only ever meet expectations or achieve goals that they think make sense – they do lots of research and will achieve something in their own time.

Rebels resist both outer and inner expectations and can be seen as quite random in whatever they do.

Why is understanding your own tendency important? Because this shows us that what works for someone else may not necessarily work for you. While simply joining a gym and buying cool new running shoes may help the Upholder to achieve their daily exercise goal, an Obliger is more likely to need the external motivation of a personal trainer or workout buddy to get them to the gym every day. A Questioner may need to go and research the latest information on which is the best workout plan for their specific goal or health need.

So struggling to make the changes you want to make in your life? Work out your tendency and set your goals taking into account how you respond to expectations. It’s going to make change and success a whole lot easier.

[1] https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/straight-and-curly/id1073392563?mt=2

[2] https://gretchenrubin.com

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