If your goal is to sit less and move more, I think it's important to avoid the New Year's resolution trap. We all know how the best intentions to diet and exercise pledged on January first tend to fizzle out a few weeks later. We spend those first few weeks determined that this time, we will succeed. We are focused and motivated, and we have a plan...if only we can stick with it this time. We change everything about our diet, exercise, and activity habits and we change them all at once. Go big or go home, right? Unfortunately, this all-or-nothing mentality leads to nothing in results. Come March, we're exhausted and have given up. There's always next year.
If you're determined to sit less, I urge you to side-step this time-honored failure loop. We need a different approach and a new game plan, one that is simple, easy to implement, sustainable, and yields success. Ironically, these simple traits are exactly the building blocks recommended by habit experts to make a new habit stick, even a habit as pervasive as sitting. You don't need to forgo all sitting: you just need to sit less. No perfection required.
With that in mind, here is my suggested path for moving away from the chair, spelled out in three simple steps:
STEP 1: PICK ONE THING. Don't try to go from sitting a lot to hardly ever sitting. Trust me, it won't work. Instead, ease into a more active lifestyle by picking just one way to sit less for now. Choose something that's pretty easy for you to do and doesn't take too much time. What's one way you can sit less that you can still see yourself doing a few years from now? Don't overcomplicate it or add unnecessary stress in your life. Pick something doable that fits in well with your life. Maybe it's parking further way from the grocery store and other shops. Maybe it's walking around during commercials as you watch your favorite shows. Or maybe a good choice for you is to walk during phone calls. Pick something you can do that's easy to implement.
To increase the likelihood that your chosen activity becomes a habit, it's helpful to attach this new activity to something you already do every day or something that happens to you every day. The “old” activity serves as a cue or reminder to do the new habit. For example, you might decide that, “Every time the phone rings, I will stand up and walk around” or “After I write an email, I will stand up and proofread it before I hit the 'send' button.” In these cases, the phone ringing and the written email serves as reminders to do the new activity. Habits can also be triggered by visual cues such as leaving your walking shoes out by the front door as a reminder to head out for your morning walk.
STEP 2: PRACTICE YOUR ONE THING. Now that you've selected your one thing to focus on in your quest to sit less, it's time to practice it. If possible, it's best to practice every day. The goal is to make this new action a habit, something you do without consciously thinking about it, like brushing your teeth. Human beings are hardwired to use daily habits to make it easier for us to navigate through our days. Repeatedly doing something over and over again is the key to making a new behavior stick and transforming it into a habit.
As you practice your new habit, reward yourself for sticking with it. Change is hard, and changing ourselves is even harder. Rewards are recognized as a key component in building new habits. Who's going to pursue new habits and behaviors if there isn't some benefit and reward? The reward can be as simple as a mental high-five or visualizing yourself at your future grandchild's birthday party--whatever works for you. But please find some way to reward yourself for practicing your new habit. It will increase the odds of your habit sticking.
STEP 3: PERSIST WITH YOUR ONE THING. Once you reach the point where your chosen action is a habit, just keep doing it. This sounds obvious, I know, but habits can be slippery suckers if they aren't exercised regularly. Most of us are pretty good at flossing our teeth right before and right after a dental check-up. But three months later? Not so much.
If you've come to dislike the action you've selected and find it irritating, cumbersome, or really tough to stick with, it probably won't have much staying power. In that case, it may be better to select a new action. There's nothing wrong with that, as trial and error is a central tenet of the habit-forming process. If, on the other hand, your activity is fitting seamlessly into your life, is easy to do, you do it now without thinking, and you like the benefits you're getting from sitting less, maybe it's time for a new one thing!
PICK. PRACTICE. PERSIST.
Sitting less made easier.
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