How To Create Healthy Habits
Habits: we've all got them, and many of them, we may want to change. But how do we do that? What's it take to create new, healthy habits? Read on for some practical tips.
The first step to change is understanding the animal—habit—itself. And a great way to understand the nature of habits is to do some research.
To better understand how to create healthy habits, I recommend reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. He discusses a system called “the loop,” which breaks habits into three actions: a cue, a routine, and a reward. This is the process for creating new habits; to change old ones, he tweaks the process slightly. This book is a great resource that can help you create healthy habits.
A myth we must acknowledge is the length of time needed to create a solid habit. Many have heard it takes just 21 days to form a new habit, but it just isn’t true. According to a groundbreaking-but-overlooked study at the University College London, you should give yourself at least 66 days to make a habit stick. In the study, participants reached the “automatic” point of completing an action without thinking, on average, at 66 days.
When you are trying to create healthy habits, don’t set yourself up for failure with unrealistic expectations, and don’t try to change your whole life in one swoop. Building or changing habits is tough because we crave instant gratification. We also tend to bite off more than we can chew, go too fast too soon, and get overwhelmed too quickly.
Creating Healthy Habits
Whatever old habits you are trying to break or new habits you are trying to create, here are some strategies that can help you on your journey.
Take it slow.
Oftentimes, habits are actions, but actions start in our mind. If you don’t feel ready for change, you won’t. Focusing on the cognitive aspect allows you to gather information, think about your options, and consider the benefits of new or different habits. You can map out how you might set yourself up for the greatest success.
Develop your why.
The "why I am doing this" will make creating or changing a habit stick when times get tough, willpower is low, or your schedule is cramped. For instance, if you want to read more, think deeper than "I want to read five books to improve my vocabulary." Think, and possibly write down, how improving your vocabulary improves your confidence in social situations, which can lead to meeting new friends. Or improving your vocabulary might mean you will be better at crosswords or a better communicator at your job.
Set SMART goals.
What goals might you achieve by forming new habits? Set up mini-victories and celebrate each one.
A great model for goals you’ve probably heard of is a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Relevant/Realistic, and Time-bound. Use this to develop exactly how you will attack establishing a new habit or changing an old one.
Check out this great resource on setting SMART goals to help you create healthy habits.
Write down your game plan and place it somewhere visible.
Write down your game plan for achieving your goals and creating healthy habits. This will help you stay focused and be held accountable. After writing your plan, place it on the refrigerator, in your car, or on the bathroom mirror so you can see your path to change.
If you miss a day or step of your game plan, it won’t affect the habit-formation process as long as you hop back on the train. We are not perfect, so don’t fret about occasional stumbles—your habit building can still proceed without a hitch.
Use technology that can help you.
Sticking with a habit for months on end is tough, but technology can lighten the load. Look for helpful apps that are designed to help with habits. Additional mindfulness apps allow you a moment of reflection and are great at reinforcing habits.
Set alarms on your phone/computer. Tell Siri, “Set a reminder at 4 PM to eat some nuts.” Use GPS to alert you the next time you pass a gym. There are so many ways technology can benefit us when forming new habits.
Don’t go it alone.
Cultivate discipline with accountability. Find a group of friends to support and join you in forming a new habit. Or create consequences for your own actions such as:
Every time I skip ______________ this month, I will pay $50 to my wife/husband/friend who will donate my money to a cause.
Every time I do ____________ when I shouldn’t, I will let my three-year old do my makeup before work.
Find the joy.
A new habit can’t be something you hate. If it is, then you probably won’t stick with it for long. Pick a habit that isn’t miserable and you’re more likely to follow through on it.
At the same time, there are lots of success stories of people who went from hating exercise to loving how it feels. This is where your why comes in. To motivate yourself, consider combining a habit you dislike with something you love. For example, if you are trying to form a new daily habit of cleaning your home, only allow yourself to listen to your favorite podcast while cleaning.
You’ll need more brain power initially until your habits become your routine. With each passing day, you are successfully working towards creating healthy habits as you overcome any self-limiting beliefs and build momentum.
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