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How to Form Good Habits That Stick

How to Form Good Habits That Stick

No matter how well-intentioned we are about forming better habits, we usually have trouble making them stick. Why don’t good habits quickly become as automatic as buckling a seat belt or turning off the faucet? Most of us blame our lack of willpower or motivation, but maybe we’re just taking the wrong approach.

Here are seven ideas for making good habits stick:

1. Pick Your Timing

Never make a resolution two weeks before a scheduled surgery or just after learning that your boss has been replaced.

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Start a new habit when you’re caught up in normal life and not under unusual stress. Pick a time when your days will be fairly routine for a while.

2. Be Specific

Hardly anyone who resolves to eat healthier, get more exercise or write the great American novel succeeds. Those goals are just too broad.

Make your goals very specific. For example, select 10 healthy meals that you’ll stick to at lunch. Choose three exercises that are easy to do every day at home. Resolve to write at least 500 words per day, not 5,000.

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People who don’t set specific goals or make plans wind up driving through the fried chicken place at lunchtime.

3. Start Small

If you suddenly decide to get up earlier and run 5 miles every day, you’re setting yourself up for epic failure.

Instead, shoot for running 2 miles once or twice a week. Gradually, work your way up. Even something like 5 minutes daily will get you into the habit of running consistently each morning. Approach new habits as though you were wading into the shallow end of a pool. Get used to the water before you do a cannonball from the high diving board. Everything is less daunting this way.

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4. Focus on Lifestyle Changes Rather Than End Results

Instead of imagining your new life after shedding 50 pounds, focus on day-to-day changes that will result in weight loss and a healthier, happier you. Visualize yourself in a dance class with friends or on a bike ride with your spouse. Looking at the little picture rather than the big one will reduce anxiety and give you patience with yourself.

5. Give It Time and Track Your Progress

Contrary to conventional thinking, habits rarely form in just 21 days. Scientists actually put the number closer to 66 days.

Keep a calendar, but don’t let interruptions discourage you if you miss a day here and there. Mark off each of your successes, and watch them add up.

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6. Identify Obstacles

Before you give in to defeat, spend some time pinpointing the things that are holding you back from achieving your broader goal.

If your running shoes are uncomfortable, invest in a new pair. If you can’t control your drinking at happy hour, see a movie instead or plan another activity you enjoy. If you fall asleep while trying to read through the classics in bed each night, don’t change into pajamas so early. Relocate to a comfortable chair where there’s a good source of light.

7. Use Your Head

Finally, trust your brain to do its part.

Nothing can turn resolutions into daily habits like the brain. It snaps to attention whenever new information or muscle movement is introduced. It notices the tiniest changes and learns to repeat them. If an NBA star’s free throws appear effortless, it’s because he spends countless hours in the gym shooting over and over again. Because his brain kicks in when it recognizes familiar motions, the athlete hardly has to think about lining up his shots. They come naturally to him.

Thanks to the brain, repetition eventually results in habits that stick for good. Nourish your brain with healthy foods, physically activity and adequate sleep.

More by this author

Jesse Boskoff

Co-Founder and COO at Status Labs

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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