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Happy New Year, RVing friends! Tis the season for lots of chatter about New Year’s resolutions—and maybe some of you are even thinking through a few of your own. If you’re one of those motivated souls, good for you.
But before I lose the rest of you, I’m not here today to talk about resolutions! Instead, I’d like to talk about habits, and specifically, how to take the good ones you’ve already got established with you when you’re RV traveling.
Habits are certainly related to resolutions, but the difference is a resolution, like a goal, has an end. “I will lose 20lbs.” See the end there? With habits, there’s no end, no expiration. And if they’re good habits, you’ll hopefully continue doing them for life.
RVing, however, has a way of messing with our pre-established healthy habits. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked for advice from RVers about this. People who exercise religiously at home are baffled why it’s so hard to do on RV trips. The same struggle happens with eating well when traveling, and getting quality sleep, too. Basically, any healthy habit you have at home becomes vulnerable when traveling.
So, what do you do when you want to form better habits– or maintain your current healthy habits– once you hit the road? It starts with understanding the very nature of habits. Because even though RVing messes with your off-the-road routines, you absolutely can establish healthy habits on the road. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly habits are and then go over some strategies that will help you build good habits.
You Are Who You Are Because of Your Habits:
Habits are the small actions you repeat on autopilot daily. They’re the systems you have in place and the little decisions you make throughout your days that no longer require much thought. Whether you’re aware of it or not, your days are filled with bundles of habits.
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, your life today is intrinsically the sum of your habits. The things you’ve repeatedly done have formed the person you currently are. How fit, successful, and even your current happiness levels are a result of both good and bad habits you’ve formed throughout your life up to this point. That’s pretty incredible if you think about it. And it also shows why establishing good habits is so crazy important. You want to live well long into the future? The habits you have now will determine that.
Willpower vs. Habits
As a fitness expert, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn I do some form of exercise for at least an hour every day. But don’t assume that means I’m an over-achiever with superhuman levels of willpower. Oftentimes, willpower gets mistaken for a solid habit, and that would be the case here. I don’t have to drum up a big dose of willpower to tie up my athletic shoes, because, for me, autopilot takes over. I’m drawn to go exercise without much thought about it. In fact, a day not exercising feels like a day not brushing my teeth—it leaves me feeling off, and a bit yucky. So, I exercise, and I brush my teeth, and the world continues to feel right.
That’s the hallmark of a habit; getting to the point where no (or at least very little) willpower is required. Imagine a balancing scale with Willpower on one side and Autopilot on the other. As you begin to introduce a new habit, Willpower holds all the weight. With consistency and time spent on your habit, the scale begins to tip. Eventually, and likely without even knowing when it happened, the weight is all on the Autopilot side. With healthy habits, that’s your goal—to get away from using so much willpower and instead be able to function effortlessly on autopilot.
And now we’re to the problem.
Hitting the Road: The Deactivation of Autopilot Setting
Take me, as an example. Even though exercise is a solid habit of mine, things change when I’m on the road. I don’t have my beloved home gym or my spin bike. I don’t have my favorite running route, either. There are more logistics to be worked out; WHERE will I run, WHAT equipment can I use here at the campsite, WHEN can I fit it in around all our trip fun? I feel myself having to work at maintaining my exercise habit more. The weight shifts on the habit scale. With so much effort required to transfer my habit, I’m no longer on autopilot.
Since you’re not used to requiring brain time to carry out your pre-established healthy habits, it throws them off course. That right there is why you struggle to maintain your good habits and routines on the road. The good news is, it’s not just you struggling! Blame it on our human nature. All RVers are vulnerable to this habit-jostling.
And now we’re to the solution.
This is all fixable, it just takes a little work up front. How? The key is rebooting your autopilot setting. Habits depend on autopilot functioning properly, and when you’re traveling, it’s not. So, recognize that, then back up, and do a reboot.
Follow these research-backed steps and approach building healthy habits on the road as if you’re building totally new habits.
1. Identify a habit you’d like to establish.
Allow yourself to be pretty general here, because you’ll get more specific in the next step. It can be as simple as, ‘healthy eating’, ‘regular exercise’, ‘better sleep schedule’, or ‘stress management’… really, anything you want to turn into a habit can work here. And again, don’t confuse goals with habits. “Lose 10lbs” is a goal, not a habit. Think of habits as a system, not something that ends.
2. Create a What, How, and When Plan.
This is where you get specific. If your identified habit is ‘stress management’, perhaps your ‘what’ is setting aside 10 minutes for meditation or relaxation each day. Your ‘how’ is using a relaxation app, and your ‘when’ is right before breakfast. Add the habit to your phone’s calendar and set alarms so you’ll get reminders. When forming a new habit, frequency and consistency are everything. So make a solid and specific plan that you know can work with your RV travel schedule, and make every effort to stick to it.
3. Make it as fun as you can.
You are on vacation, after all! You’re far more likely to stick with something you enjoy, so make the experience as positive as possible. If your identified habit is eating healthfully on the road, you can swap gas station junk food stops with a stop at a roadside farm stand. Or instead of dinners out at uninspired chain restaurants, make cooking part of the adventure by finding local produce at a farmers market, and then experimenting with new tasty recipes in your RV’s galley. Make working on your habit fun, and you’ll have better chance for success.
4. Seek social support.
Research shows we are strongly influenced by our peers, so use this to your advantage. Tell your friends and family about the habit you’re working on so they can help cheer you on and hold you accountable. Even better, find people who already have the habits you’re working to build. Does your identified habit involve getting regular cardio exercise? You could seek out group bicycling, running, or hiking clubs in the communities on your travel route. Surrounding yourself with people who are doing the habit you’re trying to build will help keep you motivated and enthusiastic about doing it, too.
5. Plan for failure.
Successful habit building relies on frequently and consistently repeating a behavior. But life happens, especially out on the road. Be okay with some flexibility to your habit-forming plan, and don’t allow a miss here or there to discourage you from continuing working at it. One of my favorite strategies I like to suggest is to be okay with missing once, but do everything you can to avoid missing twice in a row.
So there you go, a 5-step plan to reactivate your autopilot setting on your habits. Because the healthy habits you form are more than just chores to slog through, thwarting the fun from your life and RV trips. Your habits are who you are. If you want to improve who you are—and I think we all do—you need to form healthy habits that align with whatever that looks like for you. When you have healthy habits you feel good about, it changes how you see yourself. That’s what leads to real transformation.
Now go out there and slay 2023! Happy and healthy RVing, all!