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Flexibility Keeps You on Track

by Beth on November 22nd, 2022

Establishing habits is a great way to make healthy behaviors automatic. Habits work well for simple behaviors performed in a stable environment. It’s been easy for me to stick to my habit of doing planks in the morning and at night after I brush my teeth. It’s harder to form habits for complex behaviors in less stable environments. When daily challenges make it difficult to follow through with our plans, flexibility can help us maintain our well-being goals.

In an attempt to help Google employees establish the habit of going to the gym, John Beshears and his colleagues asked half of them to exercise at the same time each day. They asked the other half to exercise the same number of times a week, but on a less consistent schedule. Employees who exercised at the same time went to the gym a little more often at the planned time; however, they were unlikely to go at all if they couldn’t make it to the gym at their regular time. Employees who had established a more flexible schedule ended up with better exercise habits because they worked out more at other times.

Having a rigid, all-or-nothing plan for your well-being goals can backfire when life gets in the way. In my ideal world I would exercise every morning and then spend at least an hour writing. I’d meditate after eating a healthy lunch and go for a walk every evening. In my real world this often isn’t possible, so I opt for consistency over perfection. I remind myself that something is always better than nothing. I ask “What can I do instead?”

If an early meeting means I can’t exercise in the morning, I shift my exercise to the afternoon. Some days a walk is the only way for me to stay consistent with my goal of being active. I might also have to move my scheduled writing time to later in the day. Or maybe I can only write for 30 minutes. It’s harder to be healthy when I eat out, but I try to make smart choices. There are days when I can only meditate for 5 minutes, but I don’t skip it. Staying consistent keeps me on track.

Having routines that help you achieve your well-being goals is essential, but it’s equally important to be flexible when your plans don’t work out. Make choices that will keep you moving in the direction of your goals. Rather than giving up when life interrupts your plan, look for a compromise. Ask yourself what you can do instead to still be physically active or how you can still eat something healthy. Be flexible and make a choice that allows you to pursue your overall health goals in a different way. Consistency, not perfection, is what matters.

From → Goals, Well-being

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