Whether you’re new to yoga or are recommitting to your practice after a break, how do you give yourself the best chance of creating a yoga habit and making it stick? Here are some tips…
1. Set your bar low
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big when it comes forming a habit. But it’s more helpful to break it down into manageable, achievable parts. In other words, set your bar low: start small.
If you’re looking to (re)commit to a daily yoga practice, perhaps begin with five or ten minutes a day for the first week and slowly build that time up. If you set yourself too huge a goal in the first place, sooner or later you’re likely to trip up. It’s easy to become disillusioned – remember our brains are wired to be negatively biased – and the easiest option is giving up altogether. Even if you spend 5 minutes lying on the floor focusing on your breath – great! Those 5 minutes of conscious awareness may just be the most beneficial minutes of the entire day.
2. Set a personal intention
It could be helpful to spend a few minutes reflecting or writing down what it is you need in your life right now and how incorporating yoga regularly could (or does) help with this. There are myriad reasons to practice yoga but they need to resonate with you and fit in with your lifestyle. Simply knowing that I’m doing something kind for my body (practising self-care) is enough of a motivation to get me coming back for more but everyone is different and your intention has to be powerful enough to motivate you when life gets in the way … which it will!
3. Know your numbers
You may have heard that it takes 21 days of doing something repetitively to make a habit stick … if only this were true! It seems that this magic figure originally came from a book written by Dr Maxwell Maltz. He was a plastic surgeon turned psychologist, who observed that “following plastic surgery, it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face.”
Like many pieces of information bandied around on the internet, this observation has, over the years, snowballed into an oft-repeated ‘fact’ … unfortunately, though it’s far from it. In a study it was found that it took, on average, more like 66 days for a habit to form. Note the words ‘on average’ here. In short, it’s probably best not to put too much emphasis on numbers. We’re all unique and the time we take to form a habit will differ for everyone. The best advice is to take it one day at a time: every day is a new possibility.
3. Choose consistency over perfection
The researchers also find that “missing one opportunity to perform the behaviour did not materially affect the habit formation process.” In other words, try not to beat yourself up if you ‘fall off the wagon’. Habit-building isn’t an all or nothing task – it’s an ongoing process.
Changing behaviour so that it becomes part of your daily life isn’t supposed to be easy. If that were the case, January’s gym membership cancellations would not be so high! So if you slip up, all is not lost. Perhaps it’s more helpful to think: consistency over perfection.
4. Reduce decision time
It’s easier to incorporate something new into our lives if we don’t have to change lots of other things to accommodate it. That’s why many people choose to practice in the morning. Try laying out your mat and setting up your (online) class the night before. If you practice in the morning, you don’t even have to change your clothes – pj’s are the most comfortable yoga wear!
In other words, reduce or completely eliminate any decision making, other than to get up a bit earlier and practise. Of course, in the middle of winter, even that one is a tough one, compared to staying in bed! But the fact is, if you reduce the chain of events and number of decisions that need to happen beforehand, it makes incorporating that new habit a little easier.
5. Don’t lose sight of your intention
It’s easy to get lost in the trees, but don’t forget about the wood! Remember why it is you’re making this change and remind yourself regularly what the benefits are. Reading books, articles or inspirational blogs on the subject, writing your own reminders down or even creating a mantra based on the theme of your overall intention to motivate yourself can all help to keep you focused on the bigger picture.