Five ways to develop healthy habits

Dr Iain Campbell, Clinical Psychologist at The William Quarrier Scottish Epilepsy Centre and running enthusiast, shares his tips for developing healthy habits.

When I started out running, I thought it would make me feel great, all the time. But it doesn’t. It’s true that I’m leaner, fitter and faster than I have ever been. But a lot of the time I’m in pain. And a lot of the time, I still think I’m going to die. A lot of the time I think about giving up. But I don’t.

It’s not easy to change a habit or take on a new one, but that’s the first thing to remember – changing your behaviour is not easy, and so you need some tools to help when things get tough.

Here are my top 5 tips – it’s all you need. (Psst – especially if you can nail tip number 1!)

1. Figure out your values

So you’ve decided you want to improve yourself. Before you dive in, take a moment and ask yourself why. Your reasons for doing this thing have got to be from you – the personal values that motivate you. What do I mean by values? I mean the things that make you tick personally. What do you want your life to stand for? What do you want others to see in you? For me, it was wanting my new baby son to grow up seeing me taking responsibility for my own health. So you might be running because you want to be around for a long time for your kids or grandkids. Or you might want to raise money for Quarriers because you believe in caring for people or supporting your local community. But whatever your values, you should feel it in your heart and in your gut. And that will keep you going.

2. Set a goal

Now it’s time to set the goal. You’ve worked out your values, you know what is important to you – what can you do to bring those values to life today? Next week? Over the next six months?

And when you decide your goal, make sure it is specific. It’s no use saying  you are going to do more exercise – when will you exercise? What will you do? For how long? How often? Then write it down and put it on the fridge where you’ll see it. Better still, tell someone else, then you’re more likely to carry it out.

3. Find something that works for you.

I don’t like gyms – I find them intimidating – so I started out running early in the mornings with my brother. It worked: it worked for me to be outdoors and it worked for me to have someone else to train with. If your first effort doesn’t work, then try another method or way. Find the details that work for you, and if that means hula-hooping in front of the telly, then go for it!

4. Know that you will have relapses

When we start a new thing, it’s exciting and interesting – just because it is new, right?

Take it from me: there’s a time when you’ve started, and you’ve been motivated because it’s all new, and then it starts to get a bit boring and you have a bit of a relapse. Everyone does, it’s normal.

Don’t see this as failure. See it as part of the process. An opportunity to think about what went wrong. Did you go at it too hard? Not hard enough? Did you choose the right method? Do you need to rethink your goal? Then do it and keep going. No matter how many times you fall off the wagon, tell yourself this is normal and just try again.

5. Keep coming back to your values

When the going gets tough – and it will – then come back to the stuff that’s important to you. If you are doing this because somebody else told you or because you’ve been forced into it, then this is not a solid foundation for success when the bad times roll. But if you’ve done the groundwork, then when you start to ask yourself ‘why?!’, a return to your values should give you the motivation to keep going. And trust me, the bad times will eventually give way to the good. There’s a saying I like in running: “it never just keeps getting worse”. Keep going – reward is always just around the corner.