Build Better Habits
BUILDING BETTER HABITS
While change doesn’t come easy, there are certain “secrets” to building better habits that support your health and wellness. It is not uncommon for us to start the year off full of new resolutions and intentions with enthusiasm and determination, until….. Until the routines of the day push us right back to our old habits. By definition, habits are automatic behaviors we do repeatedly on a regular basis. How hard can it be to create better habits?
Our behaviors are shaped first by observation and imitation. When we were a child we watched our parents in their daily routines and were encouraged to follow their lead like brush your teeth, wash your hands. When those behaviors are reinforced with positive feedback or physical reward they become habits. The first secret to building long-lasting healthy habits is to connect the desired action with a positive emotional reward which triggers your brain to desire to repeat that behavior – action > reward > desire > repeat. But changing habits that are ingrained in us or hard-wired means that we have to rewire the neural pathways and move our thinking out of the rut. That takes time. Remember the fable of The Tortoise and the Hare? Slow and steady wins the race. By taking the small, repetitive steps that follow you will soon find yourself reaping the rewards of better health.
It all starts with your mindset. Be mindful as you go about your everyday life. Notice all the actions you are making, big and small. At the end of your day pause to write down which ones had a positive affect on your day and which ones had a negative affect. Now, pick one of the negative ones that you would most like to change.
Create a plan. In a journal or notebook, write down that negative action, what triggered it, and what was the result. Next, write down a good action/habit that you would like to replace it with. Here’s an example: if you regularly have trouble getting started with your day and then find yourself lagging behind in your tasks, getting frustrated with yourself and others, you can start building a new habit by changing your alarm to a song that motivates and energizes you, move your phone out of reach from the bed so that you have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm, and then give yourself a high five in the mirror for that one simple change. (I challenge you to try it for one week and notice the difference!)
Know your WHY. To change an old habit and form a new one, you need to have a strong enough reason. Ask yourself why this is important to you. How will the new habit improve the quality of your life? You must also consider how continuing with the old habit could affect your life if you don’t make a change. Write down all your reasons to create a sense of urgency. If not now, when?
Anchor the behavior. Here’s how…find somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Sit up straight and close your eyes. Breathe in deeply to a count of four and exhale slowly to a count of eight. Create a mental picture of the situation you will be in when you have successfully ingrained your new habit. Use all your senses – what do you hear, see, feel, smell, and taste? Imagine that your old trigger happens and how you now respond with your new behavior, your new habit. Feel the rush of positive emotions that flood your senses. Now open your eyes and take a moment to consider how that felt. This will anchor in and reinforce the desire to repeat the behavior.
Take action. Schedule your new habit into your daily routine. One easy way to do this is called habit-stacking. This is where you attach your new habit to a positive habit you already have. For instance, you brush your teeth first thing each morning, so you could add on 25 pushups at the sink. Or, with that morning cup of coffee or tea add in some breathing and stretching techniques. Remember small steps, slow and steady.
Reflect and evaluate your progress. Create a reminder each week to look back on your progress. For example, you could choose Sunday morning after breakfast or as you wind down the day. Think about the challenges you may have encountered and how you overcame them. Keep your reflections in a journal so you can track your successes.
Find a partner. Having an accountability partner for support can help keep you focused and provide that positive feedback to keep you motivated. And every now and then help you celebrate your wins.
So, you see, it really is no secret, just persistence and perseverance.
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