Hey sleep enthusiast, let’s talk about the experience of setting yourself up for a new health goal, convinced this time is going to be different. That you’re going to stick with the habits you want to create for this one. But life gets in the way and somehow you just… don’t?
As a sleep coach, creating habits that support well-being and relaxation is a core part of the work I do with people who want to improve their sleep. People often ask me about ways to stick with goals and habits, so that’s what this blog article is all about.
Why it’s so hard to stick to health goals
Goals are reached through routines made up of repeated, everyday actions that take you to the intended destination. Getting there takes some planning around how those everyday actions or habits will look. As well as setting yourself up for success in terms of how you will stick to the habits, even when other things may compete for your attention.
This is probably the most frequent stumbling block I see when people set out to create new habits: how to stay accountable and consistent. Because you will inevitably have a few slips, you’re only human. Then you lose the rhythm with your habit, but still hold the intention. At some point, most likely within a few months, it may start feeling like too much effort to do the thing at all. Which is typically the point of giving up and going back to old, familiar ways.
Whether it’s about going to bed at a set time, practicing yoga in the morning, eating a specific breakfast or something else - if you’ve been through this disheartening cycle, you’ll know the disappointment and shame it can bring. The experience of failed habits not only reinforces old ways that don’t serve your well-being, it can also chip away at your self-esteem. Which can lead to giving up trying anything new to improve your life, because what's the point if you'll inevitably fail?
Be kind to yourself with your habits
But there is hope! At Restful Sleep, we are all about doing things in gentle ways. So whilst new habits may not have stuck in the past, I want to invite you to find ways to make new habits in ways that are kind to yourself. So they aren’t just a mission of pure personal willpower.
The first way to do this is to ask: once you have your goal, how can you break down the habits that will support it into their smallest possible form to start out? That could be committing to trying to meditate for five minutes per day, or even three or less if that’s what feels doable. It could be adding one extra vegetable to your evening meals. Or going to bed fifteen minutes earlier than your usual time (or your usual intended bedtime if it’s not been so regular). You can read more about how creating habits works, and why it’s best to start small here.
Once you have identified a small habit that you want to introduce into your life, you are ready for my top tip for achieving goals. It’s available right now, for free!
An accountability buddy can help you keep habits
‘Accountability means to say what you do, do what you say.’
When your personal accountability for maintaining habits may begin to fade, external accountability is what can give you an extra boost to keep going. By knowing that someone else is going to ask about your habit, you have the responsibility of not letting them down (rather than it being about you letting yourself off the hook). Which can be surprisingly powerful, even for small things.
The type of accountability that clients have found helpful in sleep coaching sessions has been focused specifically on the process for getting to the goal. It’s not about telling people your desired goal end state and being accountable for reaching it ('how's the vegetarian diet going?'). This can lead to feeling down if they ask and you have given up the goal. Instead, it’s about setting up check-ins on the small, consistent actions that will get you to where you want to be ('how are you doing with eating a different veggie everyday?').
So how do you go about finding an accountability buddy and how can you make it fun?
How to find an accountability buddy
You can ask anybody in your life to be an accountability buddy. You can choose from friends, colleagues, family members or people in groups who share a common interest. Anyone who you feel comfortable with and are in touch with regularly. You could also enlist the support of a coach who can support you throughout the whole process, from setting your goals, staying accountable and seeing results.
Whoever you ask, remember this is about a mindset shift, moving away from seeing habits as a chore. Instead, you are making new habits something to celebrate with others and have fun with! So consider who you think might enjoy that and even wish to share habits of their own to be held accountable for.
Different ways accountability buddies could look
This is where you can bring creativity into your habits because there are many ways that an accountability buddy can work. It's about exploring what may be possible for your habit and the relationship you have with your buddy, how often you are in contact with them and what you can do to make it fun for you both. Some considerations include:
The accountability of being seen for your actions
A simple way of doing this could be asking to send a message every time you have done the habit you said you would do. Then they can send you a celebratory response back, whether that’s some encouraging words, an emoji combination or a motivational meme. This can be done with anyone around the world, although you may wish to choose someone in a similar time zone if you want to maximise your chances of getting that affirmation faster.
The accountability of a shared habit
You could invite friends to join in your habit with you, for example: coming along on an early morning run. Once you get into a regular rhythm you can spread the word and see if other people may enjoy sharing the habit for even more accountability with a group.
The accountability of someone holding your goal in mind
This is another way to make the most of people that you see around regularly. It could be a friend at the gym, or someone who attends other regular events with you. When telling them about your habit, you could ask if they would enquire about your habit (remember, it's about the process, not the end goal) whenever they see you. Knowing that someone is holding your habit in mind and wants to know about it could be that extra push you need to show up for it on those tough days.
Automating accountability through habit stacking
You could make it known that you would complete your new habit before doing a regular activity. For example, you could commit to always going to the gym before meeting with friends on a Friday night. Or you could find a quiet space to meditate during your lunchtime before going into the weekly team meeting.
Then you could share your habit with your accountability buddy who also attends these regular activities. It might not be something to announce to the whole group (or maybe it is if you’re sharing celebrations for the day), but you could find ways to get playful with it. For example, you could agree that when you arrive at the regular event, you will give a nod or other specific greeting to your friend to confirm you have completed your important habit. To which they can return the nod. Then if you skip your habit, no nod, no acknowledgement, no dopamine. Ouch!
It may sound silly, but these kinds of playful moments really can make everyday life feel more like a game! This is a proven way to stimulate the reward centre in the brain, releasing dopamine to feel satisfaction in the moment and increase motivation for keeping your habit.
The Restful Sleep coaching accountability process for sticking to your goals
Can you feel the possibility of turning small, everyday habits into feel-good bursts of fun just for you?! I want to tell you that this is fully possible as a way of life. To get there you just need some planning and support.
With one-on-one Restful Sleep coaching, the point of the coaching relationship is that it's consensual, intentional and time-bound. Making it perfect for accountability because I am fully dedicated to helping make each client’s goals a reality.
The process is always the same: the client determines their goals, sharing a bit about their life and possible obstacles. From there, we look at designing habits to support them, along with the frequency with which they would like me to check in with them.
Then it is set! I then follow through with the check-ins, which may be brief 15-minute calls or emails (depending on which package they choose). I ask specific questions for them to reflect on which are targeted to their process. I also keep a look out for any adjustments that may need to be made to the goal or strategy and ask about those in sessions, with the option to explore new possibilities instead. This is the core of how we ensure the habits work for their lifestyle.
If you are curious about how Restful Sleep coaching could support you with reaching your health goals (and help you get that consistent sleep), you can book a free discovery call. This is a chance to ask any questions about your specific situation and find out what your next steps towards Restful Sleep could look like.