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FORMING NEW HABITS

I wasn’t teaching yesterday morning so had a lovely morning at home and had Morning Live on the TV in the background. It was a cost of living special and there was a segment about changing behaviour and sticking to new habits with Dr Guddi Singh.


I found it really interesting, and I’m paraphrasing but essentially:

  • By this time in January, a third of us will have already abandoned the good intentions we set out at the beginning of the year.

  • The science of habit formation tells us we can retrain our brains if we can figure out how to hack into them.

  • You’re 10 times more likely to stick to something if you’ve promised someone else you’re going to do it. In terms of new habits, Dr Guddi called this ‘declare and share’.

So how long does it take to form a new habit?


There was a study by Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College London in 2009.


She found out that on average it takes 66 days for us to ingrain a new habit.


I did a bit of googling and, possibly more interestingly that same study showed that ‘missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process’. For example, if you're trying to eat healthily and have a rubbish day and reach for the chocolate digestives, that doesn’t mean it’s a disaster and you might as well quit your good intensions.


Dr. Guddi championed ‘habit stacking’ which is this idea that you can string different habits together so you’re basically changing your whole routine. Or you can ‘stack’ a new habit to an old habit to make it more likely that you’ll do it by associating it with something already ingrained and/or positive.


I really like the thinking around this. I’m a big believer in small changes and everything in moderation so you don’t set yourself what seems like an insurmountable challenge from the word go.


There is always a reason not to do something. I love that quote from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I think we’re very good at creating our own excuses/barriers to entry and justifying a course of action that suits us. Even if we know another course of action is likely better for us.


So, what has this got to do with Pilates?


As a teacher, I’m always trying to remove barriers to entry for my clients and give as many options are possible, so everyone has access to Pilates. But what I see time and time again, is that unless that person really wants to make a change and is able to commit to a regular class or session, the habit doesn’t stick.


I’m often asked how many times a week/month you should do Pilates and really, it’s all about consistency. It comes down to the individuals’ times and budget restraints, but I think once a week is good, twice a week is better, and three times a week is amazing. Before I retrained as a teacher, I started with 1 class a week and worked my way up to 3 classes a week. That’s not to say I always made them; sometimes work or life got in the way. But once I’d got into a routine, formed a habit (and paid upfront for the sessions!), I was going to be damned if I missed a class unless I absolutely had to. And those weeks I couldn’t make any sessions, I really missed it! It was something I enjoyed, and it became a priority for me.


So, if you’ve been thinking about trying Pilates but haven’t got round to it yet. Why not join a weekly class. Aim for one a week and see how you go. Do you have a weekly catch up with a friend? Why not do the class together? Once you’ve started to see and feel the change in your body, it’ll be incredibly motivating and perhaps something that was a chore or box ticking exercise actually becomes enjoyable.


Or if you’ve been doing Pilates for a while but haven’t managed to get into a routine, or your routine has slipped over Christmas and New Year, that’s ok. You know you enjoy it and feel good for doing it, use that positivity and channel it into the motivation to make it a regular commitment.


One of the key things to forming and keeping new habits is being able to turn a negative into a positive. And if you have a little hiccup or blip along the way, it’s not the end of the world.


P.S If you want to watch the segment for yourself, Morning Live is on BBC iPlayer - it's the episode from 19 January 2023.

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