A more helpful approach to creating healthy habits is to consider these behaviors as new skills. Accept that there is a learning process in which you become competent. You should not choose to become a vegetarian with the expectation that meat will never pass through your lips again, and then feel like a failure if you succumb to a Big Mac.
How to acquire Healthy Habits
Instead, consider deciding to learn Healthy Habits. Of course, fully aware that it takes knowledge and practice to learn a meatless diet. Just as it takes experience and training to learn tennis or knitting.
To understand why this works better, consider the model of Conscious Competence Learning. It is a psychological explanation for the process one goes through to select a lifestyle or behavioral change. You slowly but surely build it into a skill that fits seamlessly into your life. The model, also known as the Four Levels of Competence, is attributed to the work of psychologist Thomas Gordon and his associate Noel Burch in the 1970s.
To achieve the best results, a New Year's resolution or a new habit should go through these phases. The main reason why so many resolutions fail is that people think adopting new health habits is smooth and trouble-free.
Four stages of the learning model
- Unconsciously Unlearned: We do not know what we do not know. We are incapable and unsuspecting.
- Consciously Unlearned. We know what we do not know. We begin to learn on this level. The sudden awareness of how badly we do something shows us how much we have to learn.
- Consciously Trained: Testing the skill, experimenting, practicing. We now know how to use the ability correctly. But we have to think about it and work hard to reach the goal.
- Unconsciously Trained: As we continue to practice and apply the new skill, we eventually enter a phase in which it becomes more comfortable - and even more natural - to use.
If you want to apply this model to a change you want to make in the new year, here are some things to consider.
First, remember that it is just practice. Don't insult yourself if you buy a lot of vegetables that could spoil while you figure out how to prepare, cook, and store them. Or if you are so exhausted and sore that you skip one of your training sessions. Think back to the first few times you learned a new skill, such as driving, and all the mistakes you made. Keep going.
Second, stay present and conscious. This reaction will allow you to adapt your lifestyle to fit your everyday life. Small optimizations will help you become more familiar with the skill.
After all, you should be able to see when the competence building has taken place. As the practice continues, the behaviors should integrate into the day.