What Habits are Made From

There’s a quote that reads: “Live less out of habit & more out of intent.” I understand what it’s trying to say – live with more purpose and be more mindful. That’s all well and good (great actually!). However, I disagree with making “habit” a four letter word.

Our daily habits make the biggest impact on our lives and always will. In fact, it is believed that up to 45% of our behavior is habit. This allows our brains to be more efficient and save energy for being creative and solving problems. If we had to be intentional with every little action, not much would get done and we’d be exhausted by mid-morning. Instead, I think that we should be intentional with establishing our habits, and then let the habits set our foundation to work from.

Habits Run in a Cycle: cue – routine – reward

Example: I feel lonely (cue). I binge watch Game of Thrones on Netflix (routine). I feel entertained (reward). While I enjoy my fair share of Netflix binge watching, it probably isn’t the healthiest or most productive way to beat loneliness. Once my series is over, I stand up, my back is hurting, I feel more tired, and I’m still lonely!

If I wanted to change this habit, I would be mindful of the cue – I’m getting lonely! I still want the same reward of feeling entertained. But to have a more positive outcome, I need to change my routine (go for a walk, call a friend, join a Game of Thrones fan club).

When we’re tired or stressed, our brain tends to fall back to our habits. It’s best to have good habits in place, unless we want to get stuck in a unhealthy cycle.

How to Create New Habits

Every person and every habit is different. Some people may find changing habits harder than others. Some habits will be harder to make than others. Forming habits can take anywhere between 18-254 days to form! That can sound a bit daunting, but remember that we are wanting these habits to last us a lifetime, so we can take as long as we need to make them stick.

For ideas of habits that are good for better mental health, click here.

Here are some strategies to help us along the way:

  • Be specific: Instead of saying “I want to exercise more” try “I will walk for 20 minutes 3 times a week”
  • Write it down: Stick it on your refrigerator or in your journal. Have a visual to remind you daily.
  • Track your progress: Have a chart that you check off after completing your daily goal.
  • Make sure your desired habit follows your values: Don’t try to create a habit because of external pressure. You might be thinking “But everyone else says waking up early is the key to happiness!” However, that won’t work for you if you’re naturally a night owl. Do what works best for you.
  • Schedule it: Making habit change a priority will motivate you to do it. Want to get a walk in today? Put it on your calendar and stick to it. If you attach it to an already established routine (ex: after lunch), it may make the habit easier to form. This is called an implementation intention (fancy, huh?).
  • Start Small: If you’re still having trouble sticking to your new routine, try making it smaller. Is walking for 20 minutes 3 times a week too hard to do? Try 1 lap around the block at first. If you feel motivated to do more, great. But allow yourself to succeed by completing this mini habit.

What habit are you trying to create or change? Try to focus on one at a time. See what strategies help you along the way. Let me know how it’s going!