Establish habits now, for the benefit of your future self

The events of 2020 have given me the opportunity to slow down and evaluate the way I live my life. The simplicity of life during lockdown stripped away all of the clutter and all of the busyness and allowed me to focus on the things that really matter to me – time with family, time on my yoga mat, studying, being outdoors and developing my business. Whilst emotionally it was a challenging period, for me personally (and I know not everyone had the same experience) there was an underlying calmness and stillness because of the new more spacious rhythm of life. And I felt so much better for it.

During this period, yoga became a much more integrated part of my students’ worlds. Rather than coming to a face-to-face class once a week at best, they now practice with me online – both live and on demand – multiple times per week, from the comfort of their own home. The impact of this change in habit is remarkable. With repetition and consistency of practice, I’ve witnessed a huge transformation in my students’ strength, flexibility, skill and technique, and they have reported a huge shift in their own mental and physical wellbeing.

In the words of James Clear in his book Atomic Habits, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It’s only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”

January and September are key times of reflection for me. January, because it’s the start of a new year, and September because of the transition of the seasons, the schools go back, and it feels like another opportunity for a fresh start. As you reflect on the events of this year, I think it’s valuable to consider what this year has taught you and which elements of your life during lockdown you might like to sustain, or let go of, and how that might be possible.

Whether yoga is your thing, or whether it’s running, or playing golf, you have to acknowledge that moving your body every day isn’t optional – it’s a necessity – for both your mental and physical wellbeing. So as the pace of life starts to accelerate, how do you ensure that you move your body and make your wellbeing a priority every day? How do you find balance and calm amongst the crazy?

Inspired by James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, here are a few tips to help you to establish and maintain positive habits that you and your future self will be grateful for:

  1. Have a vision of who you want to be and establish habits which reinforce this identity.

In the words of James Clear “Your habits are how you embody your identity. The more you repeat a behaviour, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behaviour.” So, for example, if you want to be a fit, healthy and emotionally balanced human being, ask yourself which habits you need to establish and which habits you need to let go of in order to be that person. And then act.

  1. Choose things which are easily accessible and enjoyable.

Identify the things you love and the activities which are easily accessible, and start there. If you hate running, there is no point forcing yourself to establish running as your new exercise habit. If you love swimming, but the nearest swimming pool is a 60-minute drive away that’s equally not going to be a realistic or sustainable habit. If you hate going out on a cold wet night, choose an activity that you can do at home instead of having to battle with yourself to find the motivation to leave the house. You’ll be much more motivated and able to sustain a new habit if everything is working in your favour.

  1. Establish a routine, and stick to it.

Allocate time in your diary each week or identify specific days/times when you will always do your activity. And as James Clear recommends, never miss twice. For example, “I will practice yoga at 8pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after I have put the children to bed”. This obvious cue will create a foundational structure and commitment from which you can build your habit so that it becomes an integrated part of your world. Your friends and family will recognise this allocated time as ‘your time’, and they will be much more likely to honour and respect it.

  1. Shift your mindset – little is better than nothing, and frequency counts.

I used to think that when I went running, I had to run for at least 60 minutes, or it didn’t count. Now I run for 20 minutes three times a week. And guess what? Motivating myself to go out for a 20-minute run is so much easier than motivating myself to go out for a 60-minute run. Now I’m consistently running three times a week as a result (always on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays!) and I feel great. As soon as you put pressure on yourself to do something for a long duration, you’re more likely to lack motivation to do that thing. I say this to my students about their home yoga practice all the time: 10 minutes is better than 0 minutes. If you are short of time, just do 10 minutes. SHOW UP. Do the thing. Be the person who doesn’t ever miss their yoga practice. The more frequently you do the thing, the more integrated it will be in your life, and it’s through consistency and repetition that you’ll witness the biggest transformation. And, if you show up with the intention of doing just 10 minutes, often 10 minutes can turn into 30 minutes without you even realising. The hardest part is showing up and it’s downhill from there.

  1. Act for the you of tomorrow.

View the way you live your life now from the perspective of your future self. Will your future self thank you in 10 years’ time for your current habits? We often struggle to prioritise our own self-care, particularly when we have others to take care of, but you can’t take care of others if you are not well yourself. That goes for right now, and also in 10 years’ time. Your actions now affect your reality in the future, so it’s important to look after yourself in the present moment. Your future self will thank you for it, as will your loved ones.

  1. Get support from your friends and family, and surround yourself with like-minded people.

Identify any barriers that stop you from establishing or maintaining a positive habit and ask for help. For example, if you have children, and really want 30 minutes of peace to practice yoga once a week at home but you find it hard to find the time, ask a friend, partner or family member if they can look after your children at a specific time each week. If you find it hard to motivate yourself to go to an exercise class, ask a friend to come with you. Stick your practice log to the fridge so that everyone can see your progress and support you in your journey. Find a community of like-minded people who share the same goals and passions, and take solace in the fact that you are all together sharing the same experience.

  1. Eliminate the things that prevent you from being your best self and prioritise the things that support you.

If you struggle to find the time or energy to do the things that you know will make a difference to your wellbeing, let’s face it, you’re not alone. We live busy lives, and it’s easier to collapse on the sofa at the end of the day than to roll out your yoga mat. Give yourself the best chance of doing the things that make you feel well by being prepared and troubleshooting the common barriers. Anticipate the just-back-from-work hunger and energy slump by having a snack before leaving work so that you are ready for your yoga practice when you get home. Have all your equipment ready and waiting for you. Turn off your phone or leave your phone in another room before you start so that you’re not distracted. If you think you don’t have time to do a 10-minute yoga or meditation practice, go to your Instagram settings, check your average daily screen time and convert some of that into your daily self-care time rather than mindlessly scrolling!

  1. Reflect on your progress and celebrate your wins.

It’s valuable to regularly reflect on your habits and review your progress over time. Through regular reflection you can review whether your current habits are still serving you and helping you to become the person you wish to become. It’s also always rewarding to reflect on your progress, which can give you a motivation boost. You might like to track your progress by keeping a journal or a tracker, writing a blog or sharing the experience with friends and family. The review could be based on something quantitative, such as your 5K run times, but it could also be something more reflective, such as your change in approach when faced with a tricky situation at work. Regularly take stock of how far you have come and be proud of what you have achieved.

I’ll leave you with a few words from James Clear, which I think conclude this perfectly: “In the beginning, small improvements can often seem meaningless because they get washed away by the weight of the system. Just as one coin won’t make you rich, one positive change like meditating for one minute or reading one page each day is unlikely to deliver a noticeable difference. Gradually, though, as you continue to layer small changes on top of another, the scales of life start to move. Each improvement is like adding a grain of sand to the positive side of the scale, slowly tilting things in your favour. Eventually, if you stick with it, you hit a tipping point. Suddenly, it feels easier to stick with good habits. The weight of the system is working for you rather than against you.”

If you’d like to practice yoga as a regular part of your weekly routine, you can practice with me live, or on demand. My blog on how to practice yoga at home might also be helpful!