Breaking Habits, Making Habits

Canada Geese on grass by lakeshore
To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear. – Buddha

The foundation of success in life is good health… it is also the basis of happiness. – P. T. Barnum

Winter is turning to spring, and hints of new life are starting to appear as I gaze out the window… robins are chirping in the bushes, the snow is almost entirely gone, and the days are getting longer. I started this year by listing some goals in my journal. The start of spring seems like a good time to take stock of my journey so far.

My personal goals for this year are (see Looking Forward, Making Plans):

  • Planning a trip to Japan with my family.
  • Making our home a welcoming place to entertain family and friends.
  • Exercising regularly and eating well.

My focus is on the last goal, but here’s a quick update overall… I’ve started planning our trip to Japan. It’s still a bit early to get excited, but I can’t help but feel some anticipation. So far I’ve put together a rough itinerary and budget. The downside is the cost, but the upside is how truly awesome the sites and culture of Japan will be to experience – especially when we have a Japanese speaker with us (my daughter!). One really helpful resource is the Japan Rail Pass website. It doesn’t just include the logistics of rail travel in Japan (the bullet trains or shinkansen sound amazing) but also suggests some travel itineraries for 7, 14, and 21-day stays in Japan and other practical advice (pocket wi-fi makes sense). Plus there are tons of other fascinating travel blogs and online guidebooks to browse through (Money We Have, Insider Journeys, and Lonely Planet are only a few). I could go on but this is a story for another day…

I’ve also made progress on making our home a welcoming place to entertain family and friends. Inspired by the Konmari method (see Welcoming Friends, Sparking Joy), I de-cluttered the main floor and upstairs. As long as you don’t venture into the garage or basement, things are great (more projects for later this year!). We also welcomed a new international exchange student from Brazil into our home last month. She is teaching me about the joy of pressure-cooking (see Ninja pressure cookers), and we’ve introduced a fresh approach into our diets, which was appreciated by the whole family! She’s helped to add inspiration to my goal of eating well, in particular. I find myself browsing recipes online and picking up new ingredients for family dinners and actually enjoying it!

Early this year, my alma mater offered a free online course on Managing Your Health that kicked off my healthy new year. The physiotherapists leading the class explained the benefits of exercise and its role in disease prevention and management. That helped me to set more concrete goals of 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week, plus at least 2 days per week of resistance exercises. I’m still not consistently reaching this level of activity, but it’s much closer than when I started! I knew exercise was good for you but not how much of a difference it would make. Walking alone reduces arthritis, dementia, diabetes, hip fracture risk, anxiety, depression, fatigue and even risk of death! Exercise is the single best preventative medicine available. Dr. Mike Evans boils this down into a very compelling argument (23 ½ Hours) – why not spend 30 minutes each day being active? If you are a couch potato, I strongly recommend this short video to motivate you to stopping sitting and start moving!

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
The Power of Habit is available on Amazon

Another great inspiration was the book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”. Charles Duhigg weaves together fascinating stories to show how habits work and how you can change them. Habits even work when memory fails, as Duhigg illustrates in the case of brain-injured patients. Habits start with a cue (typically location, time, emotional state, other people, or an immediately preceding action). The following the routine provides some reward. If you want to change an ingrained habit, you need to understand the cues and rewards around it, then insert a new routine. Also, some habits (keystone habits) have the power to start a chain reaction of changes. For example, exercise is a keystone habit. People who begin exercising also start to eat better, become more productive and feel less stressed. Another study showed that people who wrote down everything they ate over 6 months lost twice as much weight compared to those who didn’t. The habit of journaling allowed them to notice patterns in their behavior and plan for how to deal with situations where they tended to eat unhealthy foods. Willpower is a muscle that can be exercised, and then extend to broader areas of life.

Duhigg outlines a framework for leveraging an understanding of habits to make changes in your own life. I’ve started to use this to shift the unhealthy habits that have crept up on me.

  1. First, you need to identify the routine. For example, I drive my husband to the train every morning. I had gotten in the habit of stopping at McDonalds to get a latte and muffin on the way home. It got so I knew the drive-through staff and filled up rewards cards with stickers for free coffee.
  2. Next, you experiment with rewards. I tried driving straight home instead of stopping, driving through Starbucks instead, and eating a breakfast at home before driving.
  3. Isolating the cue was not difficult. It was time of day. I didn’t have a similar craving for latte and muffins when picking up my husband at the end of the day. Emotion or other people didn’t factor into the habit.
  4. Finally, I had to develop a plan. By understanding the habit, I could gain power over it. My new routine is eating a healthy breakfast at home before driving my husband. Now the cue (morning) and the reward (full stomach) are the same, but the routine is a better one for my health.

I’m incorporating other habits such as dog walking, a stretch and strength program, and food journaling to move forward on my goal of regular exercise and healthy eating. This can also apply to developing productive habits in business, as well as personal goals. By sharing this with my blogging community, I’m hoping to maintain my commitment to keep improving as the year goes on.

What habits have you developed that you’d like to change? What approaches work for you to achieve your goals? How has goal setting and reflection helped you to move forward this year? I’d love to hear!


  1. Great article Dianne. I’m also trying to exercise and eat healthier. Started swimming on Sundays and planning to do yoga bi-weekly, followed by hikes when the weather gets warmer.

    Excited to hear that you’re planning a trip to Japan. We’re also planning one for 2020, so would love to hear your suggestions, in addition to the ones stated here.

    Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow – great job, Tam! Swimming, yoga and hikes sound like a fantastic combination.

      I am so excited about to Japan! The current idea is 3 weeks including Tokyo, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara. Stay tuned!


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