At a glance
Be Aware of Your Habits
We all have habits. Some good, some bad, some exciting, some mundane. Each is unique, but all have one thing in common: They serve a purpose in our lives.
Some habits, such as waking up at a certain time in the morning, brushing our teeth, and commuting to school or work, were engrained into our minds at an early age. And as we age, we tend to develop habits that go beyond the ones we were taught in our younger years.
But we all know that new habits are not easy to form — especially the healthy ones.
That is because many of us try to create healthy habits the wrong way.
Behavioral scientists who study habit formation blame this on our approach to developing a new habit. We tend to make bold resolutions to hit the gym, lose weight, wake up earlier, and other lifestyle changes that sound good on paper.
But that bold, all-or-nothing approach of, say, suddenly deciding to exercise after work each day might set us up for a rude awakening.
Rather, behavioral scientists say the key to forming a new and lasting habit is to start with tiny habits and work your way towards your larger goal. In other words, instead of making the snap decision to start exercising after work, maybe begin with a simple walk around the block and build from there.
So, what can we do to develop a new healthy habit? Here’s a step-by-step outline broken down into three sections: Be Aware of Your Habits – Plan – Stay on Track.
1. Be Aware of Your Habits
To know your habits — the routines that are ingrained in your “daily DNA” as opposed to things you do from time to time with pre-planning and forethought — it is important to be tacitly aware of the actions you take each day.
This applies to both the good habits and the bad habits.
Most good habits — especially the essential ones — aren’t too difficult to identify. Brushing your teeth, exercising, and getting enough sleep are all important habits that keep us healthy.
However, bad habits such as procrastinating, consuming too much junk food, and even having poor posture are things we usually try to hide from others and justify for ourselves.
And, we have a tendency to have a “habit limit.” There is only so much time in a day and so much energy to devote to it. So it is vital that our good habits outnumber our bad habits and that we give much more weight to them.
So, to clear more time for good habits, use these strategies:
- Choose a substitute: Habits are staples that take up time in our busy lives. Cutting out a bad habit takes distinct action. You must have a replacement plan in place before cutting something out of your life — specifically something that will keep you occupied so you don’t make a beeline back to the bad habit.
- Remove the triggers: Staying away from the things that draw you into and/or facilitate a bad habit is key to clearing the ground to form a new good habit. For example, if your goal is to procrastinate less, get rid of the apps on your phone that distract during work time.
- Visualize yourself succeeding: Picture your life without that bad habit. Visualize yourself smiling with personal satisfaction knowing you have shed the bad and replaced it with something good. Then take the steps to create what you have visualized.
As for healthy habits already in place — and even the ones you plan to integrate into your daily schedule — research shows that your odds of success increase dramatically when you make your intentions known to someone who’s opinion you value. So be sure to share your plans with a family member, a close friend, or even a valued coworker! Being accountable to someone else for your plan, the execution of said plan, and the progress you are making is a great way to stay on track.
Start small, plan for obstacles, and ditch the “all-or-nothing” approach. Be sure to plan when and where you take action — but remember, choosing the right time and place to work on a habit will vary for everyone. Some of us will choose before work or during a lunch break, others will hold off until they get home.
The New York Times notes, “Behavioral scientists who study habit formation say that many of us try to create healthy habits the wrong way. We make bold resolutions to start exercises or lose weight without taking the steps needed to set ourselves up for success.”
Furthermore, these grand ambitions may be motivating in the beginning, but trying to change too much at once — or fix things that may go awry midway through — is likely to lead to disappointment, according to Mayo Clinic.
Think of it like planning to build a house without a strong foundation. Sure, it will save time and effort, but it isn’t built to last. Same goes for a healthy habit — it is important to plan properly, avoid the short cuts and remain consistent throughout the process of developing a healthy habit.
In short, make a plan that contains reasonable goals and the specific steps you’ll take to move toward them.
3. Stay On Track
Be patient! Remember that it may take time for you to see results. Consistency is key.
And like everything else, you must start somewhere —and that somewhere is at the beginning.
“It’s frustrating to experience setbacks when you’re trying to make healthy changes and reach a goal,” said NIH behavior change expert Dr. Susan Czajkowski. “The good news is that decades of research show that change is possible, and there are proven strategies you can use to set yourself up for success.”
But if you decide to do some of your own research before embarking on your journey to a new healthy habit, do keep in mind that the road to developing a new habit is different for everyone.
A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology notes that the amount of time it takes for a task to become automatic ranges from 18 to 254 days. This wide range of time indicates considerable variation among study participants; and it demonstrates that people develop habits at different paces.
So, learn to celebrate the day-to-day accomplishments on your road to a good habit — big or small. Before you know it, those incremental improvements will allow you to reap the rewards of a healthier lifestyle in the present and future.
Develop A New Habit Today!
Whether you’re a student striving to develop new study habits, a professional who aims to wake up earlier before work so you are not rushing out the door, or in the market for a healthy eating routine, the road to developing a new habit requires awareness, patience, and, of course, a plan.
But things may not always go as planned…and that’s OK! The important thing is to stay on track and try different strategies until you find what works best for you.
Dr. Czajkowski put it best: “Change is a process. What’s most important is to keep moving forward.”