There are many things we can’t control in our lives – some things are simply down to either bad or good luck. When it comes to living with arthritis, the reasons why we develop the condition are out of our control.  

But there is one aspect of having arthritis that is within our control, and that is our habits and how we manage our own condition.  

Making them Second Nature

Did you know that 40-50 per cent of the things we do every day are down to habit? These are things that we can do without thinking – they become automatic. There are the habits that we really want to drop – the not-so healthy things, such as eating too much sugar, smoking, being a people-pleaser (always saying ‘yes’ when we really want to say ‘no’), or simply being inactive – and then there are the healthy ones that we want to take up, such as regular physical activity, healthy eating and finally learning how to say ‘no’ and prioritising ourselves and our health and wellbeing. But how can we actually change our habits, and make them last? 

Focus on What you CAN Control: If we just focus on all the things we can’t control, then we simply end up frustrated and down. Instead, put all your efforts into working on changing the simple, everyday habits that stack up to positively influence your health. Take one habit at a time, and work on it consistently. Follow our tips below for more good ideas to make good habits stick, whilst ditching the ones that contribute to ill-health and low energy.  

8 Tips to Help Master Healthier Habits 

  1. Focus on the process, rather than the outcome: When athletes are training for a big race or competition, they are often encouraged to avoid focusing on an outcome goal, such as winning the race, but instead to look towards a process goal. This is a goal that is much easier to achieve. For you, if giving up alcohol is a goal of yours, start with switching to drinking less overall on a night out (for instance, halving the amount you drink by swapping drinks for sparkling water with cordial every second drink). What happens with process goals is that you grow in self-confidence as you feel yourself taking the right steps to get you closer to the outcome.  

  1. Optimise your environment: This can be as simple as clearing out your cupboards of junk food and putting apples in a bowl on your kitchen island. Make healthier choices the easier choice by changing your environment. Another example of this is if you find you spend too much time on social media, change your environment by deleting social media apps from your phone – and, automatically, your habits will change to become healthier. Or, if you find that you eat unhealthily at work, start bringing in your lunch, so that eating healthily becomes easier. You get to choose.  

  1. Remember that small habits matter so much: No, they won’t transform your life overnight, but they will add up and multiply. Start small and then build on them. When we change small habits, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to make a huge difference on any given day but, over time, those daily choices really do add up.  

  1. Focus on the entry point: Try not to focus only on the habit, such as “I’m going to go walking every day.” Instead, focus on the entry point to that. So that could be, I’m going to put my walking shoes and jacket at the door and I’m going to put them on each morning, or “I’m getting the earlier train to work so that I can get off two stops earlier to walk” – if you master that entry point, then the momentum will carry you the rest of the way.  

  1. Change the internal story of who you are: If you want to be a healthier person, you need to act in alignment with the type of person you want to be. Show up each day and say ‘this is who I am now’. Think like a healthy person – what would they do when they wake up first thing? What choices would they make? Realise that your daily habits actually shape your identity and your choices. Put one foot in front of the other and you’re moving in the right direction, whilst seeing yourself in a new light. 

  1. Commit to consistency: Some experts believe that it takes 21 days of doing the same thing every day for it to eventually develop a new neural pathway in your brain so that it then becomes almost automatic. Change is never easy, but sticking with it will help shift your mindset into a new place where you begin to embrace a new habit as part of your daily routine, rather than as something you ‘have to’ do. Choose just one habit – such as changing your bread from white to brown – stick with it for 21 days and then reassess. Chances are, even though you found it difficult to begin with, it’s now becoming the automatic choice for you.  

  1. Plan for setbacks: When individuals take an all-or-nothing approach, they are more likely to feel overwhelmed and abandon long-term goals in favour of short-term relief. If you want habits to stick, then allow for setbacks, such as during a flare or stressful times. An example of this is someone who gives up sugar but, during a stressful event, they eat multiple high-sugar foods and feel dreadful afterwards. The key, each time, is getting back on track, without guilt. Understand why you did what you did but move on – you are human, after all, and you’re allowed make mistakes. Continue to reinforce that identity that you are a person who makes healthier choices, so that those choices naturally pull you back again  

  1. Positive feedback is key: Ask yourself, ‘What benefits am I experiencing?’ This could be renewed energy, improved mood, or being able to climb the stairs without getting out of breathit’s not about the end goal, but the benefits and changes that you start to enjoy even right from the beginning. Research shows that focusing on long term benefits, such as your future health, isn’t enough of a motivator. Instead, think about how engaging in physical activity or a healthy habit makes you feel in the shorter-term. For instance, more energized, less stressed, more productive, more engaged and happier. 

Go Easy During Flares

At Arthritis Ireland we, more than anyone, understand that changing habits is hard, but especially during times when your condition is going through a flare-up. These are times when rest and recuperation are key. Habits don’t need to be changed all at once – even during your flare-up, choose one that you can try to stick to, even if it involves cutting corners. For example, if you are trying to eat more healthily, but you are too fatigued to cook, that means buying healthy, freshly prepared food that only needs reheating. That way, you are staying on track, with minimal effort.  

When it comes to managing your arthritis, take the guesswork out of healthier habits and better self-management by completing one of our free online or in-person courses. Book today by visiting the courses section of our website.