When most of us think of habits, we tend to think of the not-so-healthy, and even downright unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive drinking, or over eating. Maybe you have a habit of binge watching your favorite show with a big bowl of ice cream when you have a less than perfect day at the office, for example.
It turns out that habits don’t have to be negative. In fact, you are probably already using the power of habit in lots of healthy ways in your daily life. This article will give you the tools to become intentional about the habits you are forming, and how to turn them to your health advantage.
Notice the Healthy Habits You Already Have
The first step to making a new healthy habit is to get in touch with the fact that you are already using habits in healthy ways. Take a moment to remind yourself of those practices you are already doing on a regular basis. This will give you a chance to remind yourself that you aren’t starting at ground zero. Not only are you capable of developing healthy habits, you already have quite a few!
Here are some examples that may already be a part of your regular routine:
- You wash your hands after using the restroom.
- You brush your teeth each morning and before bed.
- You take your dog for a walk after work.
- You use lip balm when you notice your lips are dry.
- When your feeling down, you pick up the phone and call your friend for support.
These are all examples of common healthy habits you may already be doing, without realizing it. In fact, that’s the point. You know you have developed a habit (good or bad) when you don’t even have to think about doing it – you just do it on autopilot.
And, the fact that you already have habits is proof positive that you can develop new ones!
Start by Adding Something Small
The nice thing about thinking about healthy habits is that you are adding something to your life, not taking something away. Most people get easily discouraged when they feel like they have to give something up. Instead, keep your mind on what you are adding, rather than losing.
Another tip is to start with something relatively small. Consider brushing your teeth – It is a very small commitment in terms of the amount of time it takes you to do it. However, the long term benefits to oral health are quite noticeable.
If you want a habit that will add up in a similar way, make it small enough that you are sure to accomplish it each and every day. You can always build on it later, but set yourself up for success so that you can practice it long enough for it to become firmly engrained as a habit first.
An example would be taking the stairs at work. If you have 10 flights to climb, and you are in pretty bad shape, it’s probably too much to expect yourself to make the climb every day. Instead, start by taking the elevator halfway (or more) each and every day. By the time it becomes a habit, you will be ready to add more flights to your ritual.
Create a Habit Loop
Best-selling author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, offers this advice to those using habits to improve their lives. There are basically three parts to a habit: 1. The cue, 2. The routine, 3. The reward.
Let’s take an unhealthy habit loop for a moment. Let’s say you smoke every time you have a meal. In this case the cue is eating, the routine is smoking the cigarette, and the reward is the cessation of cravings that come from withdrawal with addictive substances such as nicotine.
You can use this knowledge to create your own habit loop, this time with a healthy goal in mind.
Let’s say you want to get in the habit of eating a salad at lunch (hopefully one with plenty of fresh greens, low fat protein, and healthy fats such as nuts or avocados!).
The cue: Your lunch break at work.
The routine: You go to the break room, retrieve your salad from the fridge, and enjoy your lunch with friends at work.
The reward: You feel more energized and positive after your meal.
One of the things to notice about healthy habits is that the reward is often built right in to the act itself. You don’t need to add a chocolate bar to reward yourself for eating a salad! However, you may need to train yourself to focus on the innate reward of healthy habits in a way you’re not used to. That is, it is critical to take the time to feel how your body responds to having a salad for lunch. Light, energized, focused, ready to face the afternoon!
Part of building healthy habits is learning to pay attention to the way that healthy acts make your body feel better in the moment. This critical “reward” aspect of habit forming is essential to making them stick.
Stay Dedicated to Your Habit
We have all forgotten to brush our teeth a few times in our lives. We didn’t then throw up our hands and say “Well, I missed a day so I might as well stop brushing my teeth all together!” Give yourself a break, habits take time to develop. Keep at it.
If you find yourself slipping often, maybe you have set the bar too high. Try setting a smaller action to gain traction. It is more important to do a small thing regularly than to do something more intense sporadically. This is especially true if you are trying to develop a healthy habit.
Upper Cervical Care of Glen Carbon: Your Next Step to Wellness
If you have decided to make some positive changes for your overall wellness, consider booking a free consultation with our Drs. Thad and Nikki Vuagniaux at the Upper Cervical Care Center Glen Carbon today.
We aren’t interested in throwing pharmaceutical drugs at every ailment. Instead, we help empower our patients to take control over their wellness with a holistic approach.
If developing healthy habits is on your to do list, let us help you identify your health priorities. Whether your long term goals include losing weight, improving your overall fitness, or training to run a marathon, we can help you get on the right track.