Let’s face it – all of us struggle with ditching our bad habits and adopting new ones. We “want” to be healthier, happier, and “better” at life and we know that the old adage, “out with the old, in with the new” rings true. But, how do we do it?
According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40% of our behaviors on any given day. That’s almost half of what we do every single day. No wonder we want to establish the good ones and trash the old. Again, how do we do it?
Well, the most effective way psychologists have discovered is to shift our focus from trying to abandon bad habits to simply adopting new, more beneficial ones. And, pairing those newer, “healthier” habits with rewards in our routine can really help!
For example, say you really, really LOVE to indulge in your guilty pleasure of reading trashy magazines, but you don’t really love exercising. You want to adopt a more regular workout routine, but just don’t have the motivation. SO, in order to adopt this less than appealing healthy habit, you pair your guilty pleasure with your new habit: you allow yourself to read your magazines a few days a week WHILE you peddle away on the exercise bike. Your brain, then, associates the TWO with pleasure and you’re more likely to keep up with the new habit (as long as you keep the two as a pair – no cheating!).
Other suggestions and best practices for beginning and maintaining healthy habits:
- Start small: begin with something so small and so easy, you simply can’t say no. Forget willpower – that’s a muscle that gets fatigued. Start small and build your way up. IF your long-term goal is to achieve 50 pushups each day, start with one or two, build the habit, and then increase. If you want to mediate for 30 minutes each day but it just seems too overwhelming, dedicate two minutes to start. Habits then become easier and easier – well, they become habits. We ALL have two minutes to dedicate to mindful meditation.
- Increase in tiny increments: once you have your two pushups or two minutes of meditation cemented into your routine, aim for only 1% increases each day. You’ll be surprised by how quickly 1% adds up. You’ll be flexing and growing your “willpower muscles.”
- Get back on track: when you lose your way momentarily, give yourself a break and reward yourself for getting back on track. The cream of the crop only got to the top by making mistakes. In fact, it’s those who make the most mistakes who end up making the most progress. The truth behind their success: they never give up, they always forgive themselves, and then they jump right back on the wagon!
Habits are hard to break and they are just as difficult to adopt and start anew. But, with a few simple hints and steps to “best practices” in the healthy habit department, you’ll be well on your way to success!