As the end of the year begins to draw to a close, you are likely joining millions of other people in thinking about your resolutions for the New Year. And if we had to guess, at least one of those resolutions involves creating a new healthy habit.
Whether you are looking to start eating more whole foods, drink more water, exercise regularly, or do something else entirely, at its core, your mission is to break old habits and replace them with healthy ones. But for the majority of us, this is often easier said than done. Why? Because, by nature, we are creatures of habit.
We all tend to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, follow the same routine to get ready in the morning, and take the same route to work every day without even thinking about it. What’s more, many of us also create our own habits around things like eating, exercising, socializing… the list goes on.
Just because these habits are difficult to break and reform doesn’t mean it is impossible. In fact, this seemingly daunting task becomes a lot easier when you understand the science of a habit.
The Science of a Habit
As you’ve probably already gathered, much of your day-to-day life is a series of habits. In fact, it is estimated that about 40% of your actions are habits rather than conscious decisions. Think about all those things you do without thinking about them, like pouring yourself a cup of coffee in the morning or locking the door as you leave the house.
How do we form these habits? In simple terms, through repetition, but it gets a little more complicated than that. Let us explain.
Your brain is a powerful organ, and one of its many abilities is to recognize activities and patterns that are an important part of your daily life and make them easier for you to do. This is where repetition comes into play. Essentially, when you do the same thing over and over again, your brain believes that activity is important, so it sets out on a mission to rewire itself to make that activity easier.
Without getting too complicated, this rewiring involves taking the actions needed for a specific activity and grouping them together to create a shorter neural pathway.
For instance, consider the simple habit of brushing your teeth. You have to add toothpaste to your toothbrush, brush your teeth, spit, rinse, etcetera. Before it becomes a habit, the neurons in your brain fire off a different signal for each of these steps, but as you continue to brush your teeth regularly, it groups these steps together. This grouping allows those neurons to only fire at the beginning and end of the process, which makes the activity considerably easier for your brain and body to complete.
Your brain goes through this same rewiring process for the creation of all habits, which means the key to helping yourself create sustainable healthy habits is helping your brain recognize that these actions are an important part of your everyday life.
Helping Your Brain Create Healthy Habits
Clearly, making these healthy habits is worth the effort. But it is easy to get discouraged when it takes more than a week or two for your brain to figure it out, which is why so many people give up on their resolutions so early in the year. Thankfully, there are 3 simple tricks you can use to help your brain adjust a little faster. Let’s take a look at them.
When it comes to forming a new habit, repetition and consistency are key. However, during the hustle and bustle of your day-to-day life, it is all too easy to forget about the habits you are trying to form. This is where cues can help. In this case, cues are triggers that serve as the driving force to get up and do whatever activity you are trying to make a habit out of. This can be anything from an alarm on your phone to a location or even the time of day.
For example, if you are trying to establish a habit of working out regularly, you could use time cues to let your body know it is crunch time. To do this, ensure that all your workouts are at the same time every day. You could choose to work out before getting ready for work, go for a walk on your lunch break, or hit the gym on your way home in the evening. It doesn’t matter what time you choose, as long as you stick to that time. After a while, when that time of day rolls around, you’ll start to notice that your mind and body are already ready to go.
Your brain likes to feel good. This means it is more likely to adopt a new habit and put it on autopilot if it is associated with a positive feeling, which is why it’s important to reward yourself for your progress, no matter how big or small.
But the rewards you choose are important. While it may be counterintuitive to reward yourself with ice cream while you are trying to build healthier eating habits, there are an abundance of other rewards you can use that won’t conflict with your end goal. For example, you could reward yourself by purchasing a new outfit or video game after staying consistent for a week. Alternatively, things like a trip to the movies or extra time for your favorite self-care activities can also make great rewards. Everyone is different, so it’s important to test different reward systems to see what works best for you.
Make Sure Your Heart Is In It
Whether you realize it or not, your emotions play a huge role in the formation of new habits. If you are not emotionally invested in making positive changes to your lifestyle, no amount of reasoning will get you to commit. You will always be able to find excuses to slip up “just this once,” which not only hampers the repetition of the habit but also can lower the amount of energy your brain will use to learn the new routine.
With that in mind, think long and hard about the New Year’s resolutions you are choosing and how you feel about them. If you are dreading the process to reach the end goal or are doing it because it’s trendy, you are not giving yourself a fair chance at success. Choose goals that you are passionate about and truly believe will change your life for the better. Those are the ones you are most likely to see through to the end.
Create Sustainable Habits in the New Year
Chances are, many of your goals for the New Year involve developing some sort of healthy habit. And now that you understand the science behind a habit, you are better prepared to create an actionable plan and hit the ground running as we enter 2022.
If you are looking to give yourself another leg up on your health and wellness goals, consider joining a supportive community like our Joyful Gut Support Group. This group is focused on helping you achieve your wellness goals by providing you with a community of like-minded people that you can learn from and be accountable to. As an added benefit, you’ll also learn how to keep your gut healthy, which will in turn improve your overall well-being.
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