Seven ways to create better habits

Seven ways to create better habits

Your habits have the power to completely change your life. Whether you realize it or not, each day of your life is comprised of habits. They can move you toward – or away from – the life you desire.

“A habit is a mental, physical or emotional pattern that is unconsciously ingrained in our being,” says Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “It is something you have repeatedly done over and over for so long that you may not even think about it.”

Habits include:

  • What time you wake up and go to bed

  • What you do as soon as you wake up

  • What you eat for breakfast

  • How often you check your phone and social media

  • Whether you exercise

  • Whether you make time for self-care, like prayer, meditation or reading

  • What you do on your commute

Why are habits powerful?

“There is evidence that habits can be more powerful than a big decision,” says Buttimer. “When you take on something too big – like losing 50 pounds in one month – your mind will create natural resistance because that choice is too far removed from what you’re already doing each day.”

While it takes effort to create a new positive habit, once it is ingrained in your subconscious, it will become almost effortless to perform each day.

A new habit could help you:

  • Wake up 30 minutes earlier each day so you can do a quick workout in your living room or at a nearby gym

  • Make time to read, pray or meditate each day

  • Listen to a positive, encouraging podcast or audiobook on your way to work instead of the radio

  • Make healthier food choices throughout the day because you packed your lunch and snacks the night before

These are just a few examples, but they show you the power a small change can make in your life.

How to create better habits

If you know you want to create a new habit, where do you start?

  1. Visualize how the habit will change your life. “It is important to get super clear on your ‘why’ and make it compelling,” says Buttimer. Regular exercise may be the “what.” Your “why” may be, “if I lose 50 pounds, I’ll have more energy to play with my kids, I won’t have to take my blood pressure medication and I’ll have more motivation at work.”

  2. Consider the alternative habit. If you want to add exercise as a habit, think about the opposite habit: inactivity. What value is this current habit bringing to your life? Is it helping you feel better or live the life you want to live? If not, it is worth changing. “You can overcome a bad habit by establishing a good one,” he says.

  3. Start small. You’ll get more traction if you incorporate a small habit into your life that supports a larger goal. For example, if you want to lose weight, you may choose to drink more water each day, make a healthy dinner at home five nights a week or take a walk each afternoon.

  4. Work on one habit at a time. You’ll decrease your chances of success if you try to form too many new habits at once. Start with one habit. Once it feels natural, add another. “You’ll diffuse your focus and energy if you try to go in too many directions at once,” says Buttimer.

  5. Pair a new habit with an established habit. For example, before brushing your teeth, you could do 10 squats or some jumping jacks. Or if you drink a cup of coffee each morning, add meditation, prayer or reading to that part of your day.

  6. Track your progress. Knowing the improvements you have made can give you momentum to keep going. Suppose you spend five minutes in prayer or meditation while drinking your coffee. That adds up to 35 minutes a week, which is 35 minutes more than you spent last week, and that’s progress. Those squats you did before brushing your teeth add up to 70 in one week.

  7. Reinforce positive behaviors. Reward yourself when you make progress in establishing habits. Be sure your rewards support rather than derail your goals. Maybe it’s a new cookbook, an evening bubble bath or a cozy blanket for your morning meditation.  

Habits add up to success over time

“As you practice the habit more, you build momentum,” says Buttimer. “A habit is like a boulder rolling down a mountain. It’s hard to get the boulder to move a first, and it will initially move slowly. But as it goes further down the mountain, it gains such velocity that it’s pretty much unstoppable.”

Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.

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