How to Build Healthy Habits
We are creatures of habit. We tend to follow the same patterns every day. So why is it hard to form new healthy habits? Behavioral scientist says that many of us try to create healthy habits by making bold resolutions without taking the steps to set ourselves up for success. Here are some tips to form new healthy habits.
Stack your habits.
The best way to form a habit is to tie it to an existing habit. Look at patterns in your day and think about how you can use existing habits to create new, positive ones. For example, having a morning cup of coffee can be an opportunity to start a one-minute meditation practice. Or while you brush your teeth, practice balancing on one foot. We tend to fall into end-of-the-day patterns too. Do you usually flop on the couch after work and turn on the TV? That might be a good time to practice a daily yoga pose.
Big behavior changes require a high level of motivation that often cannot be sustained. Start with a tiny habit to make the new habit as easy as possible in the beginning. Try to take a daily short walk to begin an exercise habit. Put a piece of fruit in your bag every day to lead to better eating habits.
Do it every day.
Studies show that habits take a long time to create, but they form faster when we do them more often. Start with something reasonable that is easy to do. You are more likely to stick with an exercise habit if you do some small exercise every day, rather than trying to get to the gym three days a week. Once it becomes a habit, you can explore new, more intense forms of exercise.
Make it easy. Habit research shows we are more likely to form new habits when we clear away obstacles that stand in our way. Packing your gym bag and leaving it by the door is one example.
Reward yourself. Rewards are an important part of habit formation. When we brush our teeth, the reward is immediate– a minty fresh mouth. But some rewards– like weight loss or physical changes from exercise– take longer to show up. That is why it helps to build in some immediate rewards to help form the habit. Listening to audiobooks while running or watching your favorite show on the treadmill can help reinforce an exercise habit. You can also try to plan an exercise date, so the reward is time with a friend.
UNHEALTHY BEHAVIORS COVID-19
Many of us have turned to unhealthy behaviors in response to the stress of COVID-19. Here are some common bad habits and how to cope.
1. Comfort foods. During high stress, comfort foods make us feel good in the short term but tend to be high in carbohydrates (sugar) and fat. When the stress does not resolve, it creates a dangerous cycle of cravings and crashing.
Solution: Stick to the foods that will maintain steady energy to the brain and muscles without the crash. Frozen veggies, sweet potatoes, and quality protein can be stored easily, are less perishable, and easy to prepare. Be forgiving with your eating patterns and indulge occasionally.
2. Social media. More time at home means we have become immersed in our devices. Social media is an easy distraction from reality, it is usually the first thing we pick up when we need a break. This does not help our mental health and the increase in blue light exposure interferes with sleep patterns.
Solution: Allow yourself to connect with friends via technology but set restrictions on mindless scrolling. Physically set a timer to put down your phone after scrolling and move on to your next task. Do not scroll before bed if it increases your anxiety.
3. No structure. What happens when we are left to create our own schedules every day? We do not. Many of us feel our days are in limbo, feeling lost and unproductive. This can disrupt our sleep, cause us to miss meals or snack all day, neglect medication, and generally harms our well-being.
Solution: Stick to as normal a routine as possible. Rise in the morning, eat breakfast with moderate protein and fiber, and start your day. Do not use this time to stay up late watching TV. Keep a consistent sleep schedule.
4. Not exercising. Many of us feel low energy and lower motivation. Exercise increases blood flow to your brain and muscles, which is the best afternoon pick-me-up.
Solution: Schedule time in your day to be active. Put on your normal workout clothes and turn on some music that motivates you. Remember to stretch or walk every hour. Little actions add up throughout the day.