7 Steps to Healthy Habits

Play Like a Girl pushes girls to dream big in pursuit of the limitless possibilities that lie ahead of them. However, even with the best goal structures and support systems in place, it can be difficult for girls to consistently make progress towards those goals. During adolescence, the brain is still developing the ability to consider long-term consequences and daily decision-making. This makes it especially important that girls take the time to think about the connection between their goals and their daily habits. 

Girls can stay on course toward their goals by forming healthy habits on a daily basis. Habits, such as brushing your teeth every morning, are actions that come naturally and thoughtlessly. When you intentionally create habits that correspond to your goals, you are more likely to stay accountable. Goal-oriented habits might include things such as doing homework at a specific time, updating your planner after class, or stretching before practice.

Below are 7 steps to help you form healthy habits: 

1. Know your habits.

Be aware of the things you need to do every day. Sit and jot down the habits you want to form, such as “do homework right after school” or “read for thirty minutes before bed.” When you identify the things you need to be doing, it makes it much easier to stay focused on them. 

2. Write down your habits.

Write down the habits you are trying to form. Post your list in a place like a mirror or your desk where you will see it every day. This simple step can help you remember what you need to be doing to keep on track. 

3. Remember your goals.

It can also be helpful to either write your goals visibly or mentally to remind yourself of those goals in relation to your habits. Knowing that your habits help to keep you on the path to realizing your big goals can also help you stick with your plan. This is especially critical when you lose the motivation to continue.

4. Be consistent.

Each time you practice a habit, you reinforce patterns in your brain. When you reinforce those patterns each day, they become the natural and thoughtless habit you want. However, each time you decide to skip practicing a habit or put it off, you prolong the amount of time it will take to form the habit making it harder to hold yourself accountable in the future.

5. Start small.

Consistency is key to forming a healthy habit. But start small. Avoid making a lot of changes all at once. Start with just one, simple habit. Once that habit becomes a natural part of your routine, incorporate something else. This will make it easier to commit and be consistent.

6. Be patient.

According to psychologists, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. However, the time required to create healthy habits can be difficult. When you form a new habit, you create and reinforce patterns in your brain. Those patterns don't fully formed for a period of approximately 66 days. Although new patterns will start to feel natural as time passes, you will have to make a conscious effort to stick to your habits throughout the period of formation.

7. Reward yourself.

Your healthy habits will bring about long-term rewards like an A in a class or improvements on the field. However, they most likely will not bring about short-term rewards. Doing an extra workout or spending extra time on your math homework do not activate the reward centers of your brain immediately. Make sure you take the time to reinforce those habits by rewarding yourself. Listen to your favorite artist after you finish your assignments or eat a yummy snack after a good workout. This will create positive associations between the brain and those healthy habits. And, the habits get easier over time.

Once you form healthy habits, you will find it easier to stay focused on your goals. Without even thinking about it, you will make daily progress towards the goals. It may be challenging, but we know you are capable of anything you set out to do.

Take some time today to consider the healthy habits you need to developed in order to accomplish your big goals.

The Benefits of Effective Goal Setting

Know Where You’re Going. 

The road to success starts with a destination. By setting goals, you’ll give your actions purpose to ensure you’re always moving in the right direction.

This is one of the principles we live and play by here at Play Like a Girl. We encourage girls in our programs to dream big and envision their limitless potential. More importantly, we teach them how to travel well by planning some dreamy stops along the way.

Girls tend to experience big declines in academic motivation and achievement just as they enter middle school. One of the best ways to combat these declines and help girls maintain their motivation is through effective goal setting.

While setting goals for yourself is important, it is even more important to ensure that you set SMART goals. What is a SMART goal? We absolutely love that question around here. In fact, we spend an entire session in summer camp with fifth and sixth graders on setting SMART goals. Yep, that's right: It's never too early to get SMART about your goals.

SMART is an acronym that you can use to guide your goal setting. Its criteria are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker's Management by Objectives concept. The first known use of the term occurs in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran.

Since then, Professor Robert S. Rubin (Saint Louis University) wrote about the SMART concept in an article for The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. He stated that SMART has come to mean different things to different people, as illustrated below in our definition of SMART goals.

To make your goals clear and reachable, we believe that each goal should be:
  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

Professor Rubin also notes that the definition of the SMART acronym may need updating to reflect the importance of efficacy and feedback. Toward this end, some authors have expanded it to SMARTER which includes extra focus areas such as Evaluated and Reviewed.

We believe that SMART goals align with your personal values, are quantifiable, and can be achieved through a realistic plan of action. For example, one of our program graduates, Hannah, loves art and fashion. When she entered high school, she was particularly savvy about selecting all the right courses to get closer to her goal of majoring in fashion design as a college student.

Hannah's first instinct was not to drop all of her advanced math and science subjects to take up textiles and design. She knew that would be a bad strategy. She understood that the future of fashion requires skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) due to rapid advances in several critical areas of technology.

Hannah also had her own pretty unique blend of interests in business, science, art and technology that would bode well for her focus on fashion. Hannah set SMART goals to guide her achievement in classes that aligned with her personal values and commitment to working hard and sticking to her goals as she progressed through high school. Ultimately, she succeeded in achieving her dream and will be majoring in business and fashion design at North Carolina A&T University this fall.

How did setting SMART goals help Hannah? Effective goal setting results in increases in all of these areas: 
  1. Mindset. Effective goal setting fosters a growth mindset. If goals are well structured and include a support plan, girls can see how achievable their dreams are. This encourages confidence that skills can be developed and all the benefits that accompany that belief.
  2. Self-Efficacy. Goals set with the proper structure and support systems help girls develop confidence in their skills and abilities. They also help instill a greater sense of achievement. Achieving benchmarks towards a larger goal activates the reward center of the brain, helping girls feel accomplished.
  3. Organization. Planning and structuring goals helps girls develop organizational skills. The area of the brain used to consider long term goals and the steps necessary to achieve them is the same area that handles all planning and organizational tasks. Therefore, goal-setting is healthy practice for organization in all areas of life.
  4. Relationships. Healthy goals push girls to look up to more accomplished people as a source of inspiration and accountability. When you have your own goals, you are less likely to feel jealous of or competitive with other successful people. Therefore, healthy goals foster positive.
  5. Overall Happiness. Strong goals and big dreams for the future help girls feel productive in their daily tasks. It fosters optimism for the future and brings about mental health benefits as well as more positive mood overall.

We know that you will grow up to be empowered, successful women. That's why we encourage you--and all girls--to take the time to consider your values and set goals that get results.

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know how you’re setting goals and dreaming big. Leave a comment below.