With New Years just around the corner, it’s a great time to reflect on your milestones of 2022 and set intentions for the new year ahead. A common mistake people make when setting intentions is to focus too much on the WHY rather than the HOW. If you’ve ever tried to keep up a consistent yoga practice, you might have fallen into this trap if you simply tried to stay motivated by reminding yourself how good your practice makes you feel. It’s important to get clear on WHY you practice, but it’s often not enough. Knowing HOW to stick to a consistent practice is equally (if not more!) important.
It turns out there’s a whole field of psychology dedicated to HOW to stick to our health intentions, also known as Health Behavior Change. Yoga isn’t the only healthy habit that people struggle to stick to. Research shows that people struggle to maintain all kinds of health behaviors, whether it’s sticking to a healthy diet, keeping up an exercise routine, or simply flossing their teeth 1. Good habits are easy to start but hard to maintain.
The good news? With a whole world of research done on how to make healthy changes that last, there are proven steps for HOW to make healthy changes that last. Try out these three simple research-backed tools to maintain your yoga practice and your other health goals in the new year.
1. Get Specific
Research shows that specifying the when, where and how of an intention can make it twice as likely you’ll stick to it. Studies show this works for a wide variety of healthy habits including exercising, increasing vegetable and fruit intake, and doing regular breast self-examinations 2.
Focus on the HOW: Get specific by copying and filling out the following sentence: I will practice at ___________ (time and day) at ___________ (specific location) using ___________ (the practice you will use, for example: a specific yoga class recording or your own flow).
2. Find your Community
You might have heard that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Our social environment hugely impacts our habits, with studies showing that we’re far more likely to exercise and eat healthier if our partner and friends have those healthy habits too 3,4.
Focus on the HOW: Find your community of people with your desired habit. Join an existing (virtual) group of people striving to maintain their yoga practice or form your own. Not only can this make your habit more enjoyable, but it’s also an extra resource for support and inspiration.
3. Have a mini practice
People often say they feel resistance to getting on their yoga mat when they try to keep up a regular home practice. Research shows the best trick to get through these moments is to downsize the goal and simply aim to do a shorter practice. Instead of telling yourself you have to do a vigorous, 90-minute yoga practice when you’re busy, tired or generally in a bit of a funk, aim instead to do a mini 5-minute practice.
Downsizing the habit goal helps you take the first (and hardest!) step to get started. And once you take the first step of a hard action, you’re much more likely to actually do more5. It also means you can keep up your streak when you have a tough day and trust us, these days happen to all of us – even as yoga teachers! Ironically, aiming to do less often means you end up doing more because doing so makes you feel successful and helps you overcome the biggest hurdle of getting started. Try it out the next time you’re feeling unmotivated to get on your mat and see for yourself!
Focus on the HOW: Make a mini 5-minute yoga practice or use an existing mini practice to do on days that you’re low on time, energy or motivation.
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1 Johnson, B. T., Scott-Sheldon, L. A., & Carey, M. P. (2010). Meta-synthesis of health behavior change meta-analyses. American journal of public health, 100(11), 2193-2198.
2 Gollwitzer, P. M., & Oettingen, G. (1998). The emergence and implementation of health goals. Psychology and Health, 13(4), 687-715.
3 Smith, K. P., & Christakis, N. A. (2008). Social networks and health. Annual review of sociology, 34(1), 405-429.
4 Simpkins, S. D., Schaefer, D. R., Price, C. D., & Vest, A. E. (2013). Adolescent friendships, BMI, and physical activity: untangling selection and influence through longitudinal social network analysis. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23(3), 537-549.
5 Kaushal, N., Rhodes, R. E., Spence, J. C., & Meldrum, J. T. (2017). Increasing physical activity through principles of habit formation in new gym members: a randomized controlled trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(4), 578-586.