I’ve talked a lot lately about self-care and why it is so vital for our wellbeing in challenging times. Today, I want to talk about an important element to self-care that we often overlook or even bemoan: our habits.
Some people think habits are boring and dislike the idea of being ruled by habits. They might feel that habits lock us into a routine or that habits are limiting and that we won’t have enough spontaneity in our lives.
But the truth is, we are creatures of habit. We’re on autopilot for much of the time. Habits are very useful because they free up our attention so that we can focus on other things that require more thought. Imagine if every day you had to consciously think about whether to brush your teeth or not. That would take a lot of focus that would be put to better use somewhere else!
You have habits whether you realize or not, so you might as well use them to your advantage. The more we construct useful habits, the less we have to use our conscious brain to direct our behavior. If there are certain things you want to do regularly, make it a habit so you don’t have to consciously make yourself do it every day. Doing things that are good for you becomes easy once they’re habits!
How to Make Healthy Habits
Choose a habit
What habit would benefit you? What regular action would make a positive difference in your life? This might be developing a walking routine, meditating daily, journaling regularly, or engaging in a hobby.
Make it positive
When we think of habits, we often think about breaking bad habits, but that’s not my first go-to. It’s more effective to think about creating habits we want rather than eliminating habits we don’t want.
After all, what we focus on grows stronger! Focusing on a positive (like eating more vegetables) feels more doable and motivating than focusing on a negative (like eating less sugar). At first, try focusing on a habit you want instead of one you don’t want.
This isn’t to say that it’s not important to work on eliminating habits that aren’t serving you. (I’ll address this in a future article.)
For now, think addition, not subtraction. If you want to quit something, then you suddenly have a void in your life that you’ll be scrambling to fill. Instead of saying “I’m going to give up sugar” focus on adding nourishing foods or playing with new baking recipes with a healthful sugar substitute.
As a bonus, this is a lot more fun!
It’s hard to build and maintain a habit that’s difficult, unpleasant, or based on some notion of perfectionism instead of what you really want.
For example, if you want to increase your water intake, try an extra glass of water every day this week. The following week, you might increase to two extra glasses of water every day, and notice any changes that come from better hydration.
Instead of trying to meditate for 30 minutes per day, try starting with 5 minutes and adding another minute every day, or going to 10 minutes next week and building from there.
You’ll be more likely to stick with your habit because it will be easier, you won’t get discouraged, and you’ll likely feel better too! After all, your body won’t like it if you suddenly start drinking a ton of water. You want getting healthier to feel good.
Make it easy
Before you start your new habit, decide exactly what you will do along with when, where, and how. Set out any necessary clothes or supplies so they’re ready to go.
If you want to start a walking routine, you don’t want to think “When am I going to walk? Where?” every single day. You want to establish circumstances that make it so routine that you don’t have to think about it.
For example, lay out your clothes and sneakers. Choose your route ahead of time. Decide exactly when you’ll go for your walk.
Another great way to make your habit easier is to anchor your new habit to a habit that already exists. For example, maybe you can place your journal by your coffeemaker so you can make your daily gratitude list while your coffee brews.
This way, it’s easier to establish your new habit because it fits into your existing routine.
Make it pleasant
You’re more likely to stick to your habit if you look forward to doing it.
If you say you’re going to get up at 4:30 am every day to exercise, you probably won’t enjoy it, you’ll find a lot of reasons not to do it, and the habit won’t stick.
Make your habit as pleasant as possible. Buy a beautiful notebook and a good pen for your daily journaling practice. Stock up on healthy produce you love so you’ll make a habit of eating more vegetables. Walk outside instead of on a treadmill.
Adjust Your Environment
So much of our behavior is shaped by the people and things around us. If we’re around people who overeat, we’re likely to overeat. But, if we’re around health conscious people, we’re more likely to be health conscious too.
If we have a lot of junk food in our home, we’re more likely to eat it because it’s easy to access. The same is true with healthy food. If you put a bowl of fruit on your counter, you’ll probably eat more fruit!
Notice how your current environment might be changed to support you in keeping your new habit.
Connect with your motivation
Remember, the habit is the vehicle to help you feel how you want.
You exercise because you want to feel fit and healthy. You go to bed early because you want to feel rested and clear-headed. You want to meditate to feel calmer and better equipped to handle challenges.
Focus on how you feel once you’ve done your habit. Focus on the reward, like how energized you feel after your walk, how clear you feel after meditation, and how refreshed you feel after a good night’s sleep.
Remember, what you focus on grows, so focus on what you want.
And most of all, remember that good habits are an act of conscious self-care!