When you think of the word “habit”, if you are like me, your mind likely wanders to those habits that you wish you could break personally or that a loved one would give up. The word “habit” has, unfortunately, developed somewhat of a negative connotation, when in fact habits themselves can be either positive or negative. Overeating, biting your nails, or impulse shopping are all bad habits, and certainly ones we should look to break, but what about habits we wish we had that we don’t? A habit is defined as “a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.” These habits are wired into our neural pathways in such a way that we often don’t even recognize we are doing them. These habits had to be developed at some point, so it is safe to assume that with the right amount of effort we can, in fact, turn positive actions into habits that can help us towards our goals.
Anyone that has ever tried to break a bad habit will certainly agree that it was no easy task. Once a habit has been formed it takes a great deal of effort to rewire our thinking and process to avoid a repeat of the behavior. The silver lining here is that once we develop a good habit, it is likely to stick and will take considerable effort to curtail, meaning that we are likely to continue it for the foreseeable future! That being said developing a new habit can often be as hard or harder than breaking a bad one. Many times we develop bad habits, unbeknownst to us, meaning by the time we realize we are doing it, it’s already a full-blown habit. When we are cognizant of the fact we are trying to develop a new habit it takes much greater resilience and mental fortitude to make the habit stick. But it can be done, and it will be worth it!
When you look at living a healthy lifestyle we focus on the main factors that need to be in line to have success: exercising, eating clean, getting enough sleep, staying properly hydrated, etc. So how can turn these factors into almost subconscious routines behaviors that are part of our healthy lifestyle? Essentially how do we get to the point where our body and mind are so automatically wired to complete these tasks that not doing them elicits a negative response? Developing a good habit is a goal and can be treated a lot like anything you are trying to achieve. The following tips will help you develop the good habits you want to have in your life:
- Repetition: You may have heard that it takes 21 days for an act to become a habit, however some studies think it takes more than 60 days. Either way for a habit to form and take root, it needs to be repeated consistently for much more than a day or two.
- Scheduling and Implementing: Saying you will eat better or workout more is too vague a statement to develop a habit. Committing to eating 5 meals a day at specific times or committing to exercising 30 minutes per day via walking or running after dinner gives you specific expectations and goals to achieve each day. Assigning an action around another habit in your daily routine is also a great way to ensure success. If you know you leave work at 5:30 every day then planning a meal or workout right after is a safe way to ensure you complete the task.
- Committing and Re-Committing: This may seem like a no-brainer to be included in this list, but if you don’t commit and continue to re-commit to the process on a daily basis it is very easy to get off track. When the alarm goes off for your 6 a.m. workout or you see the fast food place on the way home after work, if you are not committed to your own success it would be easy to break the pattern you have established. There are ways around this such as finding an accountability partner, establishing a punishment/reward system that keeps you motivated, or making your goal public to those around you so they can help keep you on track. Every day, or each night review your goals, your progress and re-commit to achieving what you set out to do.
- Focus on the Positives: Like with anything you undertake there will be challenges, even times you want nothing more than to quit. In these instances you have to choose to find and focus on the positives. Thinking of how far you’ve come or what the future will look like if you remain consistent and dedicated will help fight off the negative thoughts surrounding your goal. You can choose to dread going to the gym, or you can focus on how good you know you will feel after. This step is all about cultivating a positive mindset. If we think we can, then we can and vice versa.
- Support is Vital: Surround yourself with those that support your goals and dreams and don’t give too much time to those that react negatively or claim you can’t. If someone is okay poking fun at you for your dedication to the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, they will certainly do nothing to help you get to where you want to be. Give your attention and time to those who will support you and only bring positive energy as you progress.