In many ways, our habits shape who we are. They can affect our attitudes, decisions, behaviors and overall health. Here are three ways you can create lasting habits this semester.
No matter how motivated we may feel or how much willpower we think we have, it can be hard to form new habits, especially if they aren’t all that ‘fun’. That’s where temptation bundling comes in. Temptation bundling involves pairing a pleasurable activity with a behavior that you probably should be doing but may be procrastinating. For instance, watching Netflix is more enjoyable, but you may feel like you should go for a walk instead.
How to start bundling:
In order to ‘bundle’ activities, you’ll need to make two lists:
List all the things you want to be doing (playing games, listening to music, watching your favorite show, etc.)
List all of the things you should accomplish (physical activity, catching up on a paper or project, doing household chores, etc.)
Treat this like a brain dump and list as many activities as you can in each list. Browse both sides and see if there are any activities or items you can easily ‘bundle’ together to make it more likely for you to complete one of your should items.
Here are some examples:
- Only listen to audiobooks while at the gym or on walks.
- Only watch Netflix (or Hulu or Amazon, you get the point) while folding laundry or picking up clutter in the living room.
- Only go out for coffee if you walk there and back.
- Only scroll through social media if you’re standing up (no more sitting on the couch).
- Only listen to your favorite true crime podcast while catching up on overdue emails.
Remember that it’s important to pair something that gives you instant gratification with something that can feel more like a chore. Over time, this strategy will help you become more motivated to complete your should activities because they’re done in tandem with something you actually want to be doing and enjoy.
Confronting sabotaging thoughts
Do you ever feel super motivated to make changes and then find yourself questioning your decision a few days or weeks later? Oftentimes self-sabotaging thoughts are to blame. Self-sabotaging thoughts typically take the form of worst-case-scenario thinking, negative thoughts in general and negative self-talk. Calling out these thoughts and reframing them can help us stick with it when it comes to new habits and behaviors. Here’s how to get started:
1. Write down recent thoughts
Have you had a self-sabotaging thought recently? Get a piece of paper or open a fresh document on your computer to write them down.
Some examples include:
- I am never going to finish this project on time.
- Everyone else makes this seem so easy, I must be a failure.
- I blew my budget this month and now everything is ruined.
- I can’t believe I skipped the gym today.
2. Identify thought distortions
While it may be hard to look at your list, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the self-sabotaging thoughts you’ve had recently and work to identify thought distortions among them.
Thought distortions include (but are not limited to):
This type of thought distortion tends to fall within the ‘extremes’ with little or no room for ‘gray areas’. Something is either amazing or awful, perfection or a total failure, all or nothing.
This type of thought distortion involves overgeneralizing a specific situation or drawing conclusions based on a one-time event. For instance, if a student does poorly on a test, they may conclude that they are just bad at school.
This thought distortion occurs when we think we know what other people are thinking. For instance, you may think your friends are judging you for missing out on an important party or event, even though they never told you they felt that way.
Similar to mind reading, this thought distortion occurs when we try to predict the future without enough information or evidence. For instance, if you do not get selected for a particular job or promotion, you may assume that you’ll never get hired or promoted.
This thought distortion happens when we reduce ourselves (or other people) to a single negative characteristic or descriptor. For instance, if you decide to sleep in instead of going on a morning hike you had planned, you may call yourself “lazy”.
3. Look for evidence
In what ways are these self-sabotaging thoughts true? In what ways are they false? While most self-sabotaging thoughts have a small amount of truth to them, it’s important to see that the evidence against them may be even more overwhelming. Take some time to dig deep and evaluate each thought.
This scenario can give you an idea of what this process looks like when you put the steps together:
Scenario: Alex recently committed to going for a morning run every weekday. After a weekend full of social events and activities, Alex was exhausted. They slept through their alarm two days in a row and didn’t make it out for a run on either day. Self-sabotaging thoughts crept up and Alex began to wonder if they had ruined their routine.
I can’t believe I missed my runs two days in a row. I’m such a failure.
- Labeling: Alex labeled themselves as a failure.
- All-or-nothing: Alex only missed out on two morning runs, but still considered themselves to be a failure.
Evidence in support of the thought:
- Alex didn’t go for a run as planned.
Evidence against the thought:
- Alex has kept up their routine every weekday until now for the past month.
- They can run farther and faster than they could last month.
- Rest is important for recovery, so it’s okay to take a couple of days off.
- Alex can always go on a walk at lunch or after dinner if they want to get out.
Rewarding yourself can be a great way to keep your motivation up and build healthy habits. It’s important to know that rewarding yourself every time you do something may not be the best approach. When we get rewarded too often, we don’t always internalize the actions we’re taking. Sometimes, we start to just do it for the reward itself.
For example, if you get a compliment after you’ve worked hard on a project, it feels good. But if your boss or professor compliments you every single time you do something, the effect isn’t as powerful. Rewards work in a very similar way. In most cases they should be unexpected or infrequent. Consider rewarding yourself as you make it to specific milestones on your way to a longer-term goal.
It’s also important to choose rewards that are meaningful to you or that make you feel accomplished whenever you reach a milestone.
Here are some examples of rewards you might use:
- Catch up with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while
- Check out a new book from the library
- Pick up a new house plant
- Enjoy a movie night with friends at home or at the theater
- Take a scenic drive
- Enjoy a picnic in the park
- Host a brunch or potluck
- Play mini golf or yard games with friends
- Attend a live comedy show or concert
- Try out a new restaurant or recipe
- Upgrade your yoga mat or running shoes
- Get a manicure or a new bottle of polish to use at home
- Take a hike on a new trail
Whatever you choose as your reward (remember you can pick more than one), make sure you implement it in a meaningful way to signal that you’ve reached a milestone or made progress toward a specific goal or habit.
Want additional support to set and reach your goals or create new habits and routines? Here are some resources that are available for students, staff and faculty.
Resources for students
Peer Wellness Coaching is a free service available to CU students to help you set and achieve wellness goals. Coaches are trained in a number of topic areas, including finances, relationships, stress management, sleep, self-image, self-care and more.
Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers a variety of free weekly workshops to help students manage stress/anxiety, learn about healthy habits, meditate, navigate difficult conversations and more!
Join Health Promotion for weekly wellness programs to learn about college health topics, practice self-care, learn about campus resources and meet informally with peer educators.
If you’re looking for someone to help keep you motivated or create new healthier habits for yourself, the Rec Center can help! They offer a variety of services, including classes, workshops, personal and partner training, equipment rentals and more.
If you’re concerned about recovering from an injury or preventing one, PTIC can help you stay healthy and active. They offer assessments, physical therapy, acupuncture and massage services to students.
Want to learn more about nutrition this semester? Students can schedule a free consultation with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) at Wardenburg or the Rec Center. Ongoing nutrition counseling is also available at Wardenburg.
Resources for staff and faculty
FSAP is committed to promoting the mental and emotional well-being of CU’s staff and faculty. They offer free consultations, brief individual therapy and workshops.
Provided by FSAP, these workshops help staff and faculty explore ways to improve their wellness across multiple areas of life, including stress reduction, time off, financial literacy and more.
Did you know that CU staff and faculty can use the Rec Center? Paid memberships are available for staff, faculty spouses, alumni and affiliates. A membership at the Rec allows you to access additional services like personal and partner training, group fitness classes and more (for an additional fee).
Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) and the CU Boulder Art Museum have partnered to offer free meditation sessions every Friday for the CU Boulder community. Stop by the main gallery on Fridays by 12:30 p.m. or register to join virtually (no late admissions).
If you’re looking to improve your self-care or physical health this semester, consider scheduling a massage or acupuncture appointment with Medical Services.
The CU Collegiate Recovery Community (CUCRC) provides community, support and connection for students, faculty and staff in recovery or seeking recovery from a wide range of behaviors. Their fall meeting schedule is available online and include special sessions for staff and faculty.