Make Your Life Easier with Healthy Habits
The other day, I asked a client what he wanted to work on. A few possibilities ran through my mind: getting to bed on time, preparing food for work, monitoring his blood sugar levels, getting regular exercise. As I waited for him to reply, I realized that he probably didn’t want to work on anything. Not really. Most likely he was wishing that these healthy habits were already well established.
I feel the same way when I realize that I have some important lifestyle change work ahead of me. I am keenly aware that the big prize – a solid habit – comes with a lot of effort. Fortunately, I also realize that the effort I put into a healthy habit now pays off big time later on.
Benefits of Healthy Habits
- Less mental arguing with myself
- I get healthier and feel better
- I stop worrying about whatever it was that made me want a new habit
Healthy habits are automatic behaviors that make our lives easier while making our lives better.
The automatic part is key. It’s what makes life easier. Habits are beneficial because they give your brain a rest or allow it to work on other problems. You no longer use much brainpower to tie your shoes, back out of your driveway or log onto your computer because these behaviors became habitual. Imagine if they weren’t. Boy, our lives would be way more tiring than they already are.
Need some habit inspiration? Check out 17 Ways to Get Healthier and Happier.
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I really enjoyed reading The Power Of Habit by journalist Charles Duhigg. He explains that habits follow a 3-part pattern called the habit loop. First there is the cue, something that triggers a behavior or routine. Following the routine is the reward.
A cue might be seeing a Hot Now sign as you approach your favorite donut shop. The routine is to pull into the driveway, park, order and eat a donut or two. The reward, a delicious taste in this case, helps your brain remember this habit loop, causing you to repeat this behavior next time you see a Hot Now sign.
Even years before I read The Power Of Habit, I had some vague knowledge of how it worked. I never once offered my children a cookie while grocery shopping for fear that they’d expect a cookie each time we went to the supermarket. I didn’t want my dog to expect me to play with him or feed him as soon as I came home, so I’d vary my routine as much as possible each time I walked through the door.
Similarly, I helped my daughters learn good eating habits by serving fruits and/or vegetables with every meal. Every single day.
Create a New Healthy Habit
You can use knowledge of this 3-part habit loop to help you form new healthy habits. Piggyback your desired routine onto an existing behavior. If your goal is to walk after breakfast daily, why not piggyback your walk onto putting your breakfast dishes in the dishwasher. The cue is loading the dishwasher after breakfast. The walk is your routine. And the reward is the praise you give yourself for following through on your goal. Keep this up, and eventually you’ll have a new healthy habit.
I use the piggyback method for all types of habits, not just health habits. I remember to water my potted plants by linking rinsing a milk bottle to the watering task. I successfully linked flossing my teeth to taking a shower. I’ve piggybacked meal planning to grocery shopping, jogging to finishing coffee, strength training to finishing breakfast and so much more!
5 Steps to a Healthy Habit
- Commit to a healthy behavior (the routine).
- Piggyback the desired behavior onto an established behavior or event (cue).
- Identify the immediate positive outcome (reward), which may come automatically. More likely though, the reward is self satisfaction. Pat yourself on the back, and hold onto those good feelings for a bit.
- Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
- Guard your new habit as if your life may depend on it. Put safeguards around your time. Elevate this new healthy habit to a high level of priority. If you are short on time, engage in a modified version of your healthy habit to maintain it. Don’t have 30 minutes for your walk? Go for 15, 10, or even 7. Just go! The real value is the habit itself.
While working (yes, it’s work) to build new healthy habits, experiment with various cues and rewards. Keep it up until you find just the right mix. Often the most important reward is the praise you give yourself. It may take weeks or months, but what you once struggled with will be second nature. And you’ll know that you have one more healthy habit to rely on!
Trying to break a bad habit? See how I use a rule with exceptions.