Entering the new year can initiate a time for change, self-improvement, and bring about a sense of motivation to ‘start fresh’ and become the best version of yourself. However, for those that have set New Year’s Resolutions for the year ahead, more than half of you will have given up by February, and many will have lost that initial spark of motivation and inspiration that pushes you towards the attainment of your goals.
Why is it so hard to commit to the things that are good for you? Self-improvement is much harder than you think and requires more than simply having a goal. Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, a more empowered approach to self-improvement involves focusing on building healthy habits and long-term positive behaviour change. Habits are your repeated behaviours which normally occur subconsciously. When you create good habits, they help to achieve your goals and set you up for success. As 2022 has just begun (albeit a bit rocky), now is the perfect time to start setting up for a successful year with healthy habits.
So, how can you build new healthy habits?
- Understand your current habits
Understanding your current habits, both the good and the bad, can help you to become aware of a behaviour that should be change.
Good habits you may already be engaging in can include:
- Eating healthy and nutritious meals
- Exercising regularly
- Building and maintaining healthy relationships
- Establishing a healthy sleep routine
- Managing your stress effectively
- Establishing a work-life balance
Bad habits you may be currently doing can include:
- Binge eating
- Drinking too much
- Not getting enough exercise
- Eating a diet high in unhealthy foods
- Not getting enough sleep
Once you are aware of your habits, you can identify the desired behaviour change and create a plan of action to build and maintain better habits which support your health and wellbeing.
- Start small
When building a habit, start small. Making small positive changes to your daily life is far easier than completely overhawling all of your bad habits at the same time. Often when you are involved in sudden change, after a few weeks, or even days, you lose motivation and unconsciously go back to your old way of doing things. Developing small habits are much easier to sustain and can be performed with minimal effort. For example, your goal is to lose 5kg, so you want to create a healthy habit of eating healthy and going to the gym. Making small changes such setting aside your gym clothes the night before you go to the gym or buying lots of healthy and nutritious foods each grocery shop, are all positive changes contributing to the successful development of these healthy habits. These small changes can seem insignificant at first, but when repeated they help you to create habits that assist in achieving your goals.
- Habit stacking
Habit stacking involves leveraging an already existing habit and pairing it with a new habit. Every habit you build, synaptic pruning occurs in your brain. This is where your brain builds a strong connection of neurons to support your current behaviour, and “prunes” the neuron pathways that may have previously been associated with a different behaviour. The more you partake in this behaviour, the stronger these connections become. You can use this to your advantage when forming new habits. When introducing a new habit into your routine, attach your new habit to an already existing habit. For example, after you have your morning coffee, practice gratitude for ten minutes. When using habit stacking, it’s more likely that you will commit to this behaviour, which can result in successfully building healthy habits that support your health and wellbeing.
- Reward yourself
Habits themselves are driven by the dopamine reward at the end of the habit loop. Dopamine is a ‘feel-good’ chemical which mediates motivation and satisfaction. When modifying a behaviour, it’s important that you reward yourself to help these new habits stick. This will help to instil the similar feelings that a habit gives you and allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Maintaining new habits
Once you have developed a new habit, learning how to overcome challenges and triggers is key so you don’t relapse into old behaviours. Identifying these triggers and developing a plan can help to avoid returning to your unwanted habits. For example, you’ve built a new habit of eat healthy, a potential trigger could be stress. So, instead of opting for unhealthy foods when feeling stressed or anxious, take a moment to acknowledge your stress and choose a better response such as mediating for 10 minutes. This can help you to become present with yourself and your emotions which can alleviate stress and helps you to avoid returning to your old habits.
If you’re struggling with changing a habit or behaviour don’t be disheartened, you might need some additional support. Reach out to your EAP and get some professional advice, so you can build new healthy habits in 2022.