Healthy – in good health or promoting good health.
Habit – a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
Taken together, the idea is to do things to promote good health regularly. As part of a gym, it is easy to talk about working out as a healthy habit. There are other healthy habits such as hydration, eating balanced meals, getting plenty of sleep, and mindfulness. All of these working together help constitute a healthy lifestyle.
Stick with us, this is about to get real interesting…
A habit is a behavior that is repeated until it becomes automatic. Once a behavior is automatic, it is carried out by the basal ganglia part of the brain. It is a more automatic part of the brain, unlike the prefrontal cortex, which is where decisions are made. Let that sink in; it is neurologically a different process to do something habitually than to make a decision.. So for everyone thinking it’s just a decision to stop eating snacks at 10 pm at night while you watch Netflix in bed (like you’ve done for a long time) – it’s not that simple.
We all would like to think we are in control of our own decisions all day every day, but 40% of our days are carried out habitually. A large portion of your day, you don’t even think about your actions. Some everyday habits are: nail-biting, cracking joints, skipping breakfast, snacking late at night, checking your FB feed (obsessively), regularly showing up late to scheduled events, aspects of driving, brushing your teeth (or not), using literally all the time incorrectly for ‘literally’ everything. Okay, that last one may not exactly be a habit, but I literally had to throw that out there, literally.
Who has a habit they would like to stop? (The answer is everyone.)
Who wishes they had some healthier habits? (See above answer.)
What habits have in common, good or bad, is that they have some cue followed by a response. Remember, you aren’t consciously thinking about these habits; you aren’t making a decision anymore. There is some cue or trigger, and you have learned a response that gives some sort of reward.
Curbing bad habits is about recognizing or being aware of the cue and/or the reward. What is it that is triggering your habit? What is the actual reward you are getting? This is a real challenge. As stated, habits aren’t really operating at the conscious level. It takes a real concerted effort to draw your attention to when you are engaging in a habit and then paying attention to what is happening around that routine. Another way to put it, breaking a bad habit is about breaking the routine. But in this post we are going to focus on creating healthy habits.
Creating healthy habits is about creating a cue that leads to a positive response/reward or creating a positive routine. This takes effort. How many times have you started a healthy habit only to have it fall away? 1,000,000 and counting? Me, too. An example is someone wanting to run every morning (it’s just an example, people – no need to roll your eyes). To start the new habit, a person could just say they are going to run every morning. Who thinks that will last long? No-body. The behavior has to be consciously repeated for a while for it to become a habit. To create a new habit you need sustained effort over time.
What if this same person sets out their workout gear next to their bed and states they will get up at 6:30am and jog/walk for 10 minutes? The clothes by the bed are the cue and their plan is more specific and very much attainable as they are starting small. The important thing is to create the habit, not to turn into the most amazing person overnight. Consistency over time will lead to success. Consistency over time. This does not mean perfection. This means, not every time, but more often than not, consciously choosing the desired behavior you want so that it will become routine or habit. How long does it take? The answer varies, there is no 30 days or 21 days to make a new habit. The habit itself, the situation, the environment, a person’s desire to create a habit, etc. all contribute to how long it will take, which could generally be anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months.
So how do we increase efficacy around new habits?
Start with one, ONE habit. As mentioned earlier, this could be hydrating more throughout the day. Pick a specific water bottle and set it on your desk with a note that says, “Drink Me!”, keeping track of how many ounces you are drinking. Or increase fruit and vegetable intake as they are high in water. Another habit could be eating a better selection of foods and, for example, aiming to consume a vegetable with every meal, or aiming to eat a salad every day. Still, another healthy habit could be a regular workout schedule. Picking how many days a week you would like to workout and what time of the day, each day, you will do it is an excellent place to start. Like noon, every day of the week at In Motion Fitness. Mindfulness is another healthy habit – aiming to be present in a situation to increase attention and focus while reducing stress. There are a multitude of daily mindfulness practices out there to help you get started. Again, setting aside a specific time to practice, or picking a particular situation (like no screen time while eating to help you be more mindful of what you are eating) is more helpful than being vague. Sleep…oh the importance of sleep. I can’t stress enough the importance of sleep. For optimal health, try to get 7-9 hours of healthy sleep a night. To create healthier sleep habits, some options are: having the same bedtime every night, shooting for 7-9 hours if possible, omitting screen time at least 30 minutes before bed, both for reducing blue light and for reducing distraction.
There are other things to be done to increase the likelihood the behavior will become a habit:
- Specificity. It is helpful to be specific with what you are trying to do. Pick a time of day, or a particular space, or certain food, the more specificity, the better. If it is adding something into your daily routine, shoot for the same time every day to build consistency.
- Accountability. Tell family, friends, neighbors, your friendly neighborhood In Motion-goer about the habit you are working to improve. It is scary to put it out there that you are trying to create new habits. None of us like to fail, especially publicly. But telling others about what your goals are helps to make it concrete in your mind and puts you on the hook a little. Also, you then have a network of people who can support you and check-in with you.
- Accept imperfection. You are going to fail. Sorry to be so blunt, but you are. No one is perfect; nothing is perfect. You will fall off the proverbial horse. The point is to get back on as fast as you can. This is where being specific, only having one habit to focus on, and telling others who can help keep you accountable becomes so valuable – they all will help you get back on track as fast as possible.
When the behavior has become routine, it has become a habit and is hard to break. Once you are successful, take that awesome feeling of success and put it towards creating the next positive habit. Before you know it, you will have created the habits and routines you want to support the life you want.
Want to create a healthy habit? Let us know below! Go for it! Put it out there and get that ball rolling.
A couple helpful references: