If you’re like most people, sticking to good habits wax and wane over time. It takes discipline to stick to habits, and there are certainly periods of time that we’re more motivated than we are at other times. We even beat ourselves up over our inability to replace bad habits with good habits, which affects our self-esteem and further perpetuates our inability to break bad habits.
Consider that habits take time to create, and they can become quite established into our lives. In fact, according to research, learned habits (good and bad) change the neural patterns in a region of the prefrontal cortex of the brain (Kyle Smith Ph.D. and Ann Graybiel Ph.D. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). In this study, the researchers interfered with the activity in this area of the brain in rats who had developed a habit of completing a maze to collect a chocolate milk reward. Once the researchers interfered, the habit was broken. However, they found that a suppressed habit can easily return with the proper stimulus.
Tips to Develop Good Habits
Below, I’ll provide tips that will help you learn how to stick to new habits. I’ll discuss the importance of establishing how the goal will improve your life; how to develop a new habit through repetition, and why you must document your progress.
Why do You Care?
It’s important to understand why a goal will improve your life. If you don’t understand the benefits and there’s no reward, then you’re less likely to accomplish it. No matter what your goal might be, you must be committed and laser focused on the result. Take notes on the benefits that you’ll realize from the goal, and review your notes regularly.
What is a habit? Merriam-Webster defines a habit as “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance.” Habits can be healthy or unhealthy. Through repetition, you can replace your bad habits with good habits, as long as the result includes a reward.
You’re probably wondering how many repetitions it takes to develop a new habit. Research varies on this subject. According to a study in the European Journal of Psychology, the days it took to form a habit ranged from 18 to 254 days with the average being 66 days, which indicates that it varies from person to person. Consider that the more difficult the habit, the longer it took to form it.
Documenting Your Progress
If you document and chart your progress, you’re more likely to succeed. For example, if your goal is to lower your blood pressure through exercise and nutrition, log your exercise sessions, medication, daily nutrition (especially sodium), and daily blood pressure. Identify any correlations between these items. When you see the results, you’ll be motivated to continue. If you’re not seeing results, you’ll understand that you need to make modifications in diet, medication or exercise.
Six Good Life Habits
The six good life habits that I recommend below are fairly popular among those who want to live longer, happier, and healthier lives. Of course, everyone is an individual and what you should focus on is what is right for you and what your personal goals might be — within limits, of course.
Before making a change, research how this change will benefit you — whether it’s for your health, your finances, your relationships or your general happiness. Keep in mind, you should always start small when replacing good habits with bad habits. Changing everything at once is a recipe for failure.
1. Be Social
Research indicates that those who socialize with friends and family are generally happier people. According to a 30 year study of almost 30,000 adults from John Robinson and Steven Martin at the University of Maryland, unhappy people watched approximately 20 percent more television than very happy people. They concluded that those who spent more time socializing, rather than watching television, were generally happier.
Perhaps you’re an introvert, and you’re questioning if socializing could make you happy. For some, socializing goes hand-in-hand with feelings of anxiety. However, studies show that even introverts can gain the benefits of socializing within limits.
Tips for being more social:
- Have lunch or dinner with friends or family at least once a week. Don’t fall into the trap of eating at your desk every day at lunch.
- Make an effort to schedule activities with friends or family instead of spending time alone.
- Don’t bury yourself in your smartphone when you’re at the coffee shop or the local grocery store. Attempt to strike up a conversation or smile and make eye contact with someone you don’t know. Get to know your Barista and chat with people who talk to you.
- Join groups, clubs or professional organizations with people who share the same interests.
- If you don’t feel confident in social situations, fake it till you make it. What do you have to lose?
2. Keep Your Brain Active
According to a study, which was published in the Archives of Neurology, those who participate in cognitive stimulating activities throughout life lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Participants who engaged in activities such as reading, writing, games, and exercise have less buildup of beta amyloid protein in their brains. Beta amyloid is linked to the development of Alzheimer’s and neurological disease.
Tips for keeping your brain active:
- Learn a new skill. Find something you’re interested in, such as playing the guitar, knitting, golfing or learning to sail.
- Keep up-to-date about current events. Not only will this stimulate your brain activity, it will help you improve your social skills.
- Play games, such as Sudoko or crossword puzzles.
3. Improve Your Nutrition
Countless studies have determined that your diet affects your energy level, your cognitive ability, and your appearance. Keeping a healthy weight for your age, size, and body type can boost your self esteem and lower your risk of developing serious health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Consequently, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding foods that are detrimental to your health will help you live a happier, healthier life.
Tips for improving your nutrition:
- Work with a nutritionist or general practitioner to help you build a plan and set goals.
- Track positive food consumption such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains which are essential for a healthy diet.
- Track negative food consumption, such as solid fats, oils, alcohol, sodium, and desserts.
- Plan meals ahead of time.
- Eliminate junk food from your home to remove temptation.
- Track the results (appearance, blood pressure, etc.) so you can see the reward.
4. Get Moving
According to a research review in Science Daily that summarizes 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010, regular exercise reduces several mental and physical health conditions and can decrease the speed at which we age. The review shows that exercise can reduce the risk of some cancers, dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, and prostate cancer. The research recommends that, “Healthy adults aged between 18 and 65 should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking, five days a week. Those who undertake more vigorous intensity exercise, such as jogging, should aim for 20 minutes three days a week. Healthy adults should aim for two strength-training sessions a week that work with the body’s major muscle groups.”
Tips to get moving:
- Exercise in the morning, and prepare workout gear the night before.
- Keep in mind a gym membership or expensive equipment is not necessary in most climates. Walking and jogging outdoors provide health benefits.
- Schedule your workouts on your calendar.
- Track your workouts and the results (appearance, strength, cardiovascular improvement, blood pressure, etc.) so you can see the reward.
5. Learn Relaxation Techniques
Muscle tension can be a response to chronic pain or a generally stressful life or occupation. Many of us experience shoulder, jaw, and neck tension without even being aware of it, which can develop into constant issues. Relaxation techniques teach you to release the tension in your muscles. Techniques such as guided imagery, meditation, deep breathing, biofeedback, and yoga can improve your quality of life. Other benefits can include a lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, better sleep patterns, and improved concentration.
Tips to relax:
- Seek out the help of a professional for advice on controlling stress through relaxation techniques.
- Schedule your relaxation sessions to ensure you make these sessions a priority.
- Log your stress levels and their triggers.
- Log your relaxation sessions.
- Track the results (less pain, lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, etc.) so you can see the reward.
6. Get Organized
When you decide to get organized, it seems like a lot of work. However, the results of getting organized are more time for yourself and with your family; less embarrassment from missed appointments and a messy home; lower stress levels; and a more sanitary environment. There are countless ways to get organized; however, below I’ll provide some of my top tips.
Tips for getting organized:
- Use technology to help you organize your life, such as a personal organization app.
- Make a daily to-do list.
- Give everything you own a home. Searching for lost items is a huge time waster.
- Schedule de-clutter sessions on your calendar.
- Organize one room at a time. This way, you can see immediate results.
- Don’t let junk mail into your home. Recycle it immediately and file away what’s important.
- If something can be done in a few minutes, do it immediately.
- When you buy something new, donate, recycle or throw away an old item.
We hope this helps you replace bad habits with new, healthy habits. Please share, and comment on your strategies for developing good habits — and what you consider to be the most important habits for a healthy and happy life.