4 Steps to Creating a Creature of Healthy Habits - LE Blog

Jackie Edwards

Humans are creatures of habit. What do you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you hit the gym, take a shower or hit your snooze button four more times? What do you pack for lunch — chicken, beef or veggies? Most of the time we feel like we do things based on thought-out decisions, but our actions are really a by-product of our habits.

How Habits are Born

According to Merriam-Webster, a habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiological exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.” Our habits are formed through repetition and routine. Scientists say the magic number of days for forming a habit is 30 days. After at least 30 days of repetition and routine, our habits change from decisions to automatic behavior. Decisions are formed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and habitual behaviors are developed in the basal ganglia. When you develop a habit, your brain starts working less and less, and starts to sleep, letting an automatic system take over.

Steps to Forming Good Habits

Habits are sometimes seen in a negative light, but with enough insight into your body and mind, you can start to form good habits. Maybe you want to get in the habit of exercising more or eating healthier. Well, in order to develop these good habits, all you need to do is plan and follow the three R’s — reminder, routine, and reward.

Planning: It is important that you determine your end goal. Dream big, but also think of the small steps you need to get to this end goal. Willpower is like a muscle, and it gets tired as you use it throughout the day. Therefore, you need to work on small steps to keep yourself motivated. Develop your ultimate macro goal, and then come up with little micro quotas to help you get to the target goal. Instead of going for 50 sit-ups a day, start with 10 and work your way up. Your micro quotas should be the minimum amount of work you need to accomplish each day to reach your goal in your targeted time.

Reminder: Studies by the National Institutes of Health show that relying on contextual clues over willpower is one of the best ways to develop a new habit. Therefore, you should set reminders for yourself to environmentally trigger the start of your new habit. A good reminder encodes the new habit into something you do already. For example, if your new habit is to floss every day, put your floss next to your toothbrush. Since you are already in the habit of brushing your teeth every day, seeing the floss next to your toothbrush will trigger or cue you to floss as well. A reminder can also be associated with something we all use constantly — our phones. If you know you check your emails on your phone first thing in the morning, set an alert on your phone to remind you to floss after you check your emails.

Routine: Since it takes 30 days to create a habit, commit to 30 days. Consistency is the key, so if you want your habit to stick, make sure you do it consistently and at the same time every day during your 30 days. If your goal is to get in the habit of exercising, stick to the same routine and exercise around the same time of day. Before you start, determine what time is best for you. This time should not interfere with other activities you may have planned throughout your 30 days. Then, be sure that you stick to the plan daily. The time will start to encode as a cue for you to start your exercise routine and will ultimately become engrained in your daily routine.

Reward: Celebrate your successes. If we are rewarded by performing an activity, we are more likely to keep doing it. Throw yourself a small party when you reach a milestone. Buy some new clothes or take yourself out for a nice dinner. Also, simply looking in the mirror and telling yourself you did a good job can go a long way.

Don’t sweat it if it takes a couple of tries to make your habit stick. You have to find something that is right for you, so it might take a while to find the reminder, routine or reward that you relate to. Keep a positive attitude and remember that habits take 30 days of trial and error.

About Jackie Edwards: After taking a career sabbatical to become a mother, Jackie now writes full time on topics ranging from health and wellness, right through to news and current affairs. She has in the past battled problems with anxiety and panic, and in her spare time she volunteers for a number of local charities that support people with mental health issues.


Jonathan said...

Good habits is what makes you a better person. I'm still working on this...

Life Extension said...

Jonathan - Glad to hear you are working on healthy habits! :)

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