According to research published in the British Journal of General Practice, to create a healthy habit a person must consistently repeat an action under the same circumstances.
But if you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle, it’s normal to slip back into old unhealthy habits over time. Learning to pause and reflect on how you’re doing may help you spot when and why you return to old ways.
By doing so, you can begin to catch yourself just before you perform the habit you’re trying to change. Reflecting can give you the information you need to create a plan that prevents certain situations from triggering an old unhealthy habit.
Read on to discover how to use reflection to help you achieve a health goal.
How to reflect
The University of Edinburgh has a reflection toolkit that’s designed to help students control their progress in their studies, careers and personal lives.
The same strategies may be useful to anyone interested in taking control of their health by creating healthy habits.
According to the toolkit, an effective reflective practice should involve 3 things.
- A willingness to reflect on individual experiences and learn from them.
- Repeated reflection over a series of related experiences so you keep learning as you progress towards your goal.
- Regular reflection over time to see patterns and opportunities for learning that you may have missed.
For the best results, aim to reflect regularly. This could be daily or weekly.
Write your answers in a journal so you can review them.
When you’ve written your answers down, use them to create a new plan for the upcoming day or week.
Closely review your answers to establish how to repeat the actions that led to success and how to avoid those that didn’t.
You’ll need to define what you consider to be successful in the context of your health goal. You may choose to focus on:
- quantity - how often you perform your healthy new habit. For example, if your goal is to sleep better, you could focus on how many nights in the past week you went to bed by 9pm
- quality - how well you perform that habit. For example, you could measure success by how prepared for sleep you were every time you went to bed
- progress - how you performed compared to the last time you did it. For example, was it easier to get to bed by 9pm at the end of the week compared to the start of the week?
The final step of your reflection involves 3 things.
- Write down what you hope to achieve between now and your next reflection.
- Look back at whether you achieved the goals you set during your last reflection.
- Identify what you can learn from your last reflection and add this to your plan of things to achieve before your next reflection.
Continue this daily or weekly cycle of reflection for as long as it’s useful. As you get better at sticking to your new healthy habit, you can do this less frequently.
If you struggle to review your progress and actions during a reflection session, consider these questions:
- what 3 things went well today/this week? How do you know they went well?
- what was a situation today/this week where you could have done better? How?
- what was your biggest challenge today/this week? How did you overcome it?
- what was the main feeling you had today/this week? Why?
- what made you happy/sad/frustrated/angry today/this week? What could you do to feel more or less happy/sad/frustrated/angry?