Habits are what we form (or break) in order to live a healthier life throughout each and every day. However, saying you want to get up and jog every morning before work is much easier than actually putting it into practice. But why is forming new habits so difficult?
We often believe that when people aren’t able to reach their goals, it is because they simply don’t have the willpower, discipline, or self-control to keep moving forward. However, forming a new habit is more complicated than that.
So how do we simplify creating new habits? These tips are a great start to help you create healthy habits (and keep them) for the long-term.
The Best Ways to Create Healthy Habits
Remove any obstacles that might make those habits hard to keep.
According to Wendy Wood, author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science Of Making Positive Changes That Stick,” you want to make that habit as easy as possible by removing what she calls “friction” - anything that causes your goal or action to be a little more difficult.
Here are some examples of how you can remove (or even create) obstacles in order to keep (or break) bad habits:
If you want to eat more vegetables:
Wash and chop your veggies the moment you get home from the store. Separate them into individual containers, and keep them in your direct line of sight in the fridge, ready to grab.
If you want to eat less junk food:
Make junk food harder to get to. Put any temptations on a high shelf, in the very back of the cupboard. Better yet, lock it up with a key! Creating some resistance will make it easier to resist. Even better? Don’t even keep those temptations in the house.
If you want to watch less TV (and read more books):
Put the remote controls in a drawer and out of sight. Cover the TV with a colorful scarf or hanging picture frame so that you have to remove it every time you want to watch something. Place books on the coffee table that you want to read, ready and easily available to reach for.
If you want to exercise first thing in the morning:
Sleep in your gym clothes. You’ll already be dressed and ready to go, so you won’t have an excuse!
If you want to drink more water:
Fill your water bottle in the evening and have it ready to grab from the fridge every morning before you leave. Make it more delicious and enticing to sip by adding a packet of True Lemon.
Announce your healthy habit goal to the world!
Whether simply calling a friend and telling them you’re working on making a change, or creating a fun and motivational post on social media, tell the people you love that you’re working on improving your life. Not only will making a declaration help to hold you accountable, but you’ll get added encouragement and positive affirmations from your friends and loved ones. You may even inspire them to join you!
Reward yourself immediately, not just in the long-term.
It is a wonderful feeling when you finally reach the point of losing those 10 pounds you wanted to drop. However, it takes a while to reach that goal. Even if you’re diligent about doing a slow and steady diet of good habits, like eating nutritious foods balanced with plenty of exercise and sleep, at most your body can drop around 1 pound a week. That’s 10 weeks - around 2.5 months - before you get your reward and develop a true healthy habit.
You know what your brain loves immediately? Indulging in that slice of chocolate cake you’ve been trying so hard to resist. A chemical reaction occurs in the brain in the form of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine the moment we bite into that moist chocolatey goodness. It’s enough to make you forget all about your goal that you’re over 2 months away from reaching.
Therefore, create short-term rewards for yourself every time you practice your good habit. For example, if you’re craving something sweet (like chocolate cake) give yourself something sweet and get that immediate reward. However, choose something like a sweet juicy apple or a fresh orange instead to satisfy the craving.
Or, for every time you choose a healthy option over something indulgent, figure out a way to reward yourself. Maybe drop a dollar into a jar (to buy yourself something fun at the end of the week), or take a long hot bath. By enjoying an immediate reward, you’ll be more likely to enjoy the process of forming the habit rather than waiting for the end result.
Making true changes in life isn’t necessarily about having enough willpower or strength to create change. It’s making small changes consistently - over and over again - to the point where it becomes a habit. That habit is your daily ritual that takes so little thought that it naturally becomes a part of what you do, and who you are. These tips will help you make and keep your healthy habits going throughout your entire life!
[Credit: NPR, Hidden Brain podcast. “Creatures Of Habit: How Habits Shape Who We Are — And Who We Become.”]
[Credit: Barnett, Michaela. “Good Habits, Bad Habits: A Conversation with Wendy Wood.” Behavioral Scientist.]
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