How to Form Good Habits
Steps to Help Form Good Health Habits
Set Goals – The very first thing to do whenever you are trying to form a new health habit is to set a goal and write it down. Writing your goal down is key. Research has shown that people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. Also, the more specific the goal is, the more likely you are to obtain your goal.
Get a Baseline – You know that old quote– “You can’t know where you are going unless you know where you’ve been”—well, it holds weight here. If you are trying to set a baseline for achieving goals of becoming healthier, getting your height, weight, blood pressure, blood work, etc. can show you where you are, and then make realistic goals of where you want to be.
Realistic goals are important, because you want to make goals that will give you “wins.” Studies have shown that when people make large goals, they are less likely to achieve them, or the results are transient. For instance, by saying you are going to learn to play guitar by practicing every night for 2 hours is not very realistic. You are likely to miss a night, get discouraged or burned out. So, knowing where you are starting can help you make realistic, achievable goals. Your goal is to make a new habit automatic. Quality over quantity.
Winning – As I just mentioned, you want to make goals that give you “wins.” When you achieve a goal, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released in the brain. This is your reward, or “feel good,” neurotransmitter. This is what makes it so hard for people on drugs to quit. Every time they consume that drug, they feel good because of that dopamine release. By giving yourself a reward every time you engage in the new activity you want, say, eating a banana instead of a cookie, this will elicit the dopamine reward response making your brain want to do that again. After a day of writing, Charles Darwin would say out loud to himself, I’ve done a good day’s work.” 1 It can be as simple as that!
When you write down this part of your goal, it is also important to use positive phrases rather than negative ones. So you would write, “Eat a banana after your run.” Instead of “Don’t eat a cookie after your run.” Or for a wide receiver in football, “Catch every ball I get my hands on,” vs., “Don’t drop any balls.” The brain does much better with positive statements than negative ones.
Use Cues and Repetition – Repetition is the key to changing any habit, and you can make it easier by using cues to perform the new activity. An example of an external cue is every time you flush, you wash your hands. Or every time you sit down to watch TV you first check your phone. These are repeatable cues that help entrain you to perform a certain task. You can utilize this to begin eating a banana every time you eat breakfast. So, choose a simple action that will help you towards your goal which you can do on a daily basis. Pick the same time of day every day to do this action, and every time you encounter that time and place, do it! It will get easier with time, and soon you will find it automatic.
Having an accountability partner is also important. We can often talk ourselves out of going to the gym, but when we know that trainer is waiting on us, it encourages us to go, rather than stay home. This person could be anyone; a friend, someone with the same goals working with you, etc. The important part is just having someone to motivate you when you don’t feel like continuing.
Another important and often overlooked area for forming new habits is practicing mindfulness. This means you are aware and conscious of your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations in the present moment. By working through situations mentally before they happen, you can often overcome temptations to not work out or eat that cookie. Being consciously aware of how you would feel if you skipped a workout and how that would impact your goals and thinking through the situation is helpful in staying on track. How this works is, mindfulness has been shown to activate the front part of your brain, as well as a middle part of the brain that both play a role in controlling emotions. Through this mindfulness practice, you are able to take control of your emotions and not give in to impulsive behaviors.
Lastly, Track your results. You know those before and after pictures on weight loss commercials? Not only are they rewards that release dopamine, but they also show you how far you’ve come. By tracking your results you know how much success you’ve had and how far you still have to go. Being healthy requires a certain lifestyle for a lifetime. Meaning, you don’t just get healthy and magically stay there. You must continually work at it.
So set those goals, reward yourself, and we look forward to working with you on your health journey!