So often we associate the word “habit” with negative behaviors that we are tying to “break” or “kick.” We plan, practice and prepare in an effort to stop ourselves from engaging in behaviors that are either inherently addictive (e.g., sugar consumption) or so ingrained in our routine that we act without thinking (e.g., dinner in front of the television).
But let’s not forget that habits can be healthy too. The intentional creation of habitual behaviors is a powerful tool in our arsenal and we should take full advantage of this strategy throughout our self-improvement journey.
Below are three approaches to building new healthy habits.
1. Make a game out of it.
ake it a game and set yourself up to win. We all know the importance of internal motivation. If you are reading this, you likely have personal reasons that drive you and have carried you to and through your journey of self-improvement. However, it can be just as powerful to utilize external motivators when looking for immediate behavior change. If we teach ourselves to associate a positive behavior with a pre-determined positive reward, we can condition ourselves to exhibit a behavior more habitually. Choose a reward that will create pleasure for you under any circumstances (e.g., a massage, a pedicure, a movie) and make a deal with yourself. If you engage in this healthy new behavior x times within a specific time period, you have earned your reward. An example of this would be, “If I go for a post-dinner walk of at least one mile, three days this week, I will get a pedicure on Saturday.” At first, it might take the promise of freshly painted toes to get you off the couch. But, eventually, you won’t need the external motivator to engage in the new behavior, especially when the behavior is likely to begin rewarding you in other ways (Hello, improved digestion!).
Some pointers for implementing this strategy: Set an achievable goal for yourself so you can reap the benefits of the heightened motivation that will come from your sense of accomplishment. In other words, if you haven’t gone for a jog in five years, don’t commit yourself to a daily run, as this is physically unrealistic and may quickly lead to a feeling of defeat and the abandonment of your plan; Document your progress. This can me a simple checkmark on a calendar, but it will make a huge impact by keeping you honest, holding you accountable and serving as a regular reminder; Once you feel comfortable with a new behavior, move on to something else. This will help to keep you one your toes and maintain a healthy amount of challenge in your day-to-day activities.
2. Focus on what you want.
While there are many new habits that we could form to benefit our health and well-being at one time, remember that if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. It is important to engage with focus and effort. Think about the new habits that you would like to form. Think about how and to what extent they will benefit you, and how they may positively affect other areas of your life. Then, prioritize the introduction of these habits into your routine. Perhaps consider how they may build on one another. For example, let’s say your overall goal is to incorporate three new habits into your life: an 8 hour sleep each night, three boot camp classes a week and a weekly yoga practice. You may consider focusing on sleep first. Reap the benefits of the extra energy you will likely experience before adding in an exercise habit. Once you are sleeping and working out consistently, yoga is the perfect habit to add in for a good stretch and some relaxation every week. Tackling your goals in this manner will focus your effort while allowing one behavior to complement the introduction of the next.
3. Use an app!
Say it with me… “There’s an app for that!”
‘Way of Life’ is a popular app for iPhones. This application allows you to indicate any number of daily habits that you are trying to make or break. You have full control over creating the list of behaviors you want to focus on and designating each behavior as “good” or bad.” At the end of the day you will receive a notification to log your daily activities, both positive and negative. You can choose to list behaviors that are already well-ingrained in your healthy lifestyle, along with new behaviors you are hoping to incorporate and things you are trying to assume more control over (e.g., daily spending or time in front of a screen). After a few weeks, you can spot clear trends in the information. Often, awareness of our habits is the missing first step. An application like Way of Life provides that with just a 30 second daily time commitment, after initial configuration. You can also use the information to celebrate consistency in positive trends. You may be surprised by the power of our desire to see numerical expressions of our achievements. Something like this could easily be the documentation method you choose in implementing the first strategy we spoke about. Here’s a link to 5 habit making apps for iPhones and Androids.
While we are focusing on forming healthy habits here, it is important to note that the majority of habit research finds that one of the most successful methods of breaking bad habits involves replacing the behavior, ritual or act with a new behavior, ritual or act that elicits a similar response in your nervous system. For instance, if you smoke a cigarette at the end of the day to help you unwind, one strong approach to breaking that habit would be to replace that ritual, not to simply abstain from it. This presents an opportunity to replace the “bad” behavior with something that is good for you. Going for a walk around the block or drinking a cup of herbal tea in place of the cigarette would be an example of this. If you are able to conquer negative behaviors while simultaneously adding new, healthy behaviors to your routine, that is a WIN-WIN!
As a final thought, please remember how important it is to avoid a feeling of defeat. If you take the time to look for small victories, they are almost always there, even if it requires some reframing of your circumstances. Creating new habits requires some patience and a consistent sense of motivation. The above strategies can help build an environment that fosters consistency and tempers impatience by providing some relatively quick feedback. Here’s to healthy habits!