Any behavior or action you do regularly is a habit – from drinking coffee as soon as you get to the office to brushing your teeth right before you go to bed.
Some habits can enhance physical and mental health, while others may have an unwanted effect on your daily life. With a little effort, however, it is possible to change habits that no longer serve you and create new ones that benefit you.
Read on to find out how habits can benefit you, plus get tips on getting rid of unhelpful habits and replacing them with ones that support your well-being better.
Habits vs. Routines
Habits differ from routine because habits usually involve little or no conscious thinking, while routines usually require some intention and discipline.
For example, checking social media when you end up waiting in line somewhere will be a habit. Making a conscious decision to warm up before each exercise and cool down afterward will be routine.
On a daily basis, you may engage in a range of different habits, from financial and spending habits to healthy living habits. You may not even realize that some behaviors are, in fact, considered habits.
Examples of habits include:
Certain habits may promote a longer life by helping to ward off unwanted health issues:
The types of foods you eat, as well as how often and how much you eat, can have an impact on your physical and mental health. Some examples of healthy eating habits include:
- Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits
- Packing nutritious snacks for work or school
- Choose whole grains instead of refined grains
habits of mind
Your thinking patterns can be habits, too. Beneficial mental habits to strive for might include:
Social and communication habits
Habits that can improve your relationships with your significant other, friends, family members, and co-workers include:
Certain habits may help you manage your time better and achieve your goals, such as:
- Make a to-do list
- Tackle the most difficult tasks first
- Eliminate distractions while working
“Lots of potentially negative habits provide relief or relief in the moment but can create more problems in the long run,” he says. Paige RickettmanLMHC, licensed psychotherapist in Brooklyn, New York.
Some examples of unwanted habits include:
Doing something more frequently makes you more likely to stick to it, because the behaviors eventually become automatic and effortless. When a habit benefits you in your life, the rewards you reap can also motivate you to stick with that behavior.
“Creating a new habit can be a source of pride because you realize you have the power to improve your life, which can help bring you closer to being who you want to be,” he explains. Stephanie Jana licensed mental health counselor based in Florida.
Additionally, Jan notes that habits can be empowering and give you a greater sense of accomplishment.
Say, for example, that you are writing a novel. The habit of writing a few pages each day or setting aside a set amount of time to write each day can make your end goal less stressful. As you continue to progress, you will likely feel more motivated to stick with your new habit and keep working toward your goal.
“Positive habits not only boost your confidence. They can also reduce stress and anxiety by offering a degree of organization and predictability to your daily life,” he explains. Elizabeth Barlowan independent clinical social worker licensed in Massachusetts, West Virginia, and founder of Barlow Counseling Group.
For example, preparing meals every Sunday can make packing nutritious lunches during the work week a lot easier.
“Our brains love stories and patterns,” Barlow says. “When you engage in healthy habits, your brain anticipates what will happen and when it will happen. This can be helpful for developing and managing a daily routine that you feel in control of.”
You can definitely teach yourself new habits. The key is often to “stack” a new habit on top of an existing one. This helps you remember the new behavior so that it becomes automatic.
If you want to start practicing daily positive affirmations, you can put a sticky note on the bathroom mirror to remind you to repeat it when you wash your face or brush your teeth. In the end, you don’t need the sticky note to remind you – simply going to the bathroom may become the way to trigger your affirmations.
While you’re trying to create a new habit, it’s always helpful to be patient with yourself: it takes
Some expert-backed tips for promoting new habits:
- Make it realistic: When a habit is most rewarding for you, Rechtman says, you’re more likely to practice it regularly—and consistency can help maintain it. So, if you know deep down you don’t have time to exercise for an hour every day, try making exercise a 20-minute habit instead.
- Make it as comfortable as possible: “The easier you can make your new habit, the more chances you have to stick with it,” he says. Dr. Harold HongHe is a certified psychiatrist in New water recovery in Raleigh, North Carolina. If you want to drink more water throughout the day, you can try filling your water bottle the night before and leaving it in your work bag.
- Practice your habit at the same time every day: “You often find it much easier to get used to a habit when you do it at the same time because some external cues can act as reminders,” Barlow says. If you like to jot your journal right before bed, seeing your journal on your nightstand every night can serve as a reminder.
- Rejoice at: according to 2017 studyPeople who are satisfied with their progress in developing new habits are more likely to stick to them. That’s why Malone recommends coming up with ways to celebrate small wins to motivate yourself — like posting encouraging messages on the wall or fridge about your progress.
- Use the buddy system: “Partnering with someone who wants to incorporate the same habit, or even a different one, can help hold you accountable,” says Rechtman. You can check in with each other regularly to track progress and encourage each other when you are motivated.
“Don’t criticize yourself if you accidentally miss a day or two when trying to form a new habit,” Malone says.
“Instead of thinking of this as a failure, see it as an opportunity to write down the roadblock in your path and improve your strategy,” Gan recommends.
Perhaps the goal of meditating for 20 minutes a day was too difficult to fit into your busy schedule. You can then try cutting it down to 5 minutes a day. If you are having a hard time remembering to meditate, you can also try setting a daily alarm on your phone.
Experts say the best way to get rid of unwanted habits is to replace them with more beneficial ones. This applies whether you are trying to quit smoking:
Let’s say you want to stop scrolling your phone before bed because it makes you feel depressed and prevents you from falling asleep. In this case, Rechtman recommends using that time to read a book or listen to music instead.
“It’s best to have a positive alternative action when trying to stop something you’re doing, so that you can re-orientate yourself when the craving for that old habit appears,” explains Jean.
Tracking your daily progress toward kicking a habit in a notebook or checking in regularly with a friend to share your efforts may also help.
Some other tips for replacing unhelpful habits:
- Whatch out: Rechtman encourages “Pay attention to how you feel when engaging in unhelpful habits.” If you want to cut back on processed snacks, you can compare how your body feels after eating a bag of chips from a vending machine to apple slices with yogurt and walnuts. Building this awareness can help you focus on why you want to make the change.
- Confess because of the change: Do you wish you could feel better, physically or mentally? Want to use your time for something more productive? Hong says that identifying the factors that motivate you to make a change can help you stay on track as you make an effort to kick this unwanted habit.
- Define your triggers: “Some factors — such as activities, feelings, or even places and environments — can trigger unwanted behaviors,” Hong says. Recognizing specific triggers can help you effect change more easily. For example, if you know you’ve always had a craving for vaping right after dinner, you might plan to go for a walk instead. Tend to bite your nails while reading a book? You might consider keeping your hands occupied by petting a pet or using a fidget ball or stress ball.
How much time would it take?
Keep in mind that it often takes a while to break an unwanted habit. One
Small Study 2009Suggest that this process takes 18-254 days.
If you’re looking to build new, more beneficial habits, consider getting support from a therapist.
According to Malone, a therapist can help you uncover the root causes or underlying causes of your habits, which can provide important information to help change them.
Rechtman notes that a therapist can also help you:
- Create ways to make your desirable habits more realistic, achievable, and easy to stick to
- Responsible for making the change
- Explore which parts of you might be resisting the new habit
- Stay motivated by providing encouragement and guidance
- Brainstorm ideas for changing your habits when you find it hard to keep them fixed
You may want to break your habit of snacking right before bed. A therapist can help you identify any emotional triggers that contribute to this, such as boredom or sadness, Hong says, and then help you explore alternative ways of responding, such as calling a friend, doing a crossword puzzle, or trying another low-key but stimulating activity.
Certain undesirable habits, such as watching TV late at night or drinking alcohol Numbness of unwanted feelingsIt can result from mental health difficulties or trauma, according to Lian. A therapist can help you release those fears and come up with more productive treatment and treatment mechanisms.
Habits can play an important role in multiple aspects of your life, including mental and physical health, productivity, relationships, and self-esteem.
It is always possible to build new and beneficial habits and change the ones that no longer match your needs. Just remember to cultivate patience and self-compassion during the process, because forming new habits — and making them consistent — can take time.
A little extra help can make a difference, too. Whether you’re trying to build a new habit or kick an old one, a therapist can offer you more personalized guidance and support.
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer covering health, wellness, fitness, food, lifestyle, and beauty. Her work has also appeared in Insider, Bustle, StyleCaster, Eat This Not That, AskMen, and Elite Daily.
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