Habits aren’t easy. They take time, effort and concentration to get right. When I decided to start improving my habits I wanted to start with one that meant a lot to me, one that I could focus on and develop a pattern for getting good at making (and keeping) habits.
That’s why I started with water – the source of life. Drinking enough water is associated with both physical and mental well being, two things I know I want to work on in the future. It seemed to me there was really nothing else I could have chosen to begin with.
How Much Water is Enough Water?
As I started this challenge I remembered an article I read a while ago that explained why the common ‘eight glasses a day’ measure of water is wrong . In his article, Aaron E Carroll explains that this is a myth as, although it may be close to the right amount, it doesn’t take into account water consumed through food. In fact, nor does it consider individual body size, diet or exercise regime.
I did some more research and found many of the types of article that Carroll debunks – fluffy articles on getting eight glasses with no reference to science. Then I stumbled on a recent piece from one of my favourite writers, Oliver Burkeman of ‘This Column Will Change Your Life’. In it, he argues that the ‘eight glasses’ guideline remains useful as it forces us to cut out sugary drinks to get in eight glasses of pure water, gets us thinking about how much we drink and going to the bathroom more often keeps us active.
I found a lot of wisdom in these words and in Carroll’s suggestion that our bodies are finely tuned to tell us when we need water – it’s a survival instinct after all. I decided that, for me, drinking about one litre or five glasses a day seemed manageable and healthy. I’d keep my mind open if this didn’t feel right later on.
How Do I Drink Enough Water Every Day?
The short answer is, I don’t. Sometimes I don’t quite get my five glasses, but most days I do. On a technical level, according to Aaron E Carroll, I always get enough because I haven’t yet suffered from fatal dehydration.
That said, I now consider five glasses to be ‘enough’ for me. However, I didn’t start with five, I started with one. And I drank it when I got up, so my habit was done before I left for work. Nothing to worry about for the rest of the day.
After two weeks, I added a second glass. Again, I thought about exactly when I’d drink this glass so it didn’t become a floating obligation. I’d drink my second glass at 11am in place of my usual tea break.
Another two weeks and I added a third glass, this time at lunch. I was now drinking three glasses of water a day before the afternoon really began. I’d gone from hardly ever remember to drink water to over halfway to my target in just six weeks.
As you’d expect, I added my fourth glass in week eight. That’s where things got tough. I found myself feeling full of water by the end of the day, struggling to drink anything in the evenings. My body wasn’t used to the water intake, even though I’d built up slowly. I decided to hold off adding the fifth glass until I was ready for it.
That took longer than I expected, but I now feel able to add my final glass over the next month. Most days I’m already there, so I know I can do it.
What Did I Learn?
The main lesson to take from this experiment is that habit building takes time, but not as much time as you might think. Once I let go of the impatience that told me I should drink eight glasses of water every day, immediately, I found a way to make the habit work for me. With a bit of research, I was able to settle on a healthy and realistic target. And, even though I spaced out the increases in my routine, I was able to go from no regular water intake to one litre in just two months.
The hardest part of my new habit is the weekend, where my schedule can be very changeable depending on what my family are doing that day, what the weather is like and if we have any visitors. Throughout the week, it’s easy to tie each glass to a regular event, but the weekends have saggy middles and I often find myself drinking late at night to catch up. Oliver Burkeman was certainly right about one thing – it’s a great way to get some exercise going to the bathroom in the dark.
How do you make sure you drink enough water? What does enough mean to you?
Today’s featured image is ‘Wild Green Sea’ by Stewart Baird.