How to Build Better Habits

The holidays can be a bit of a rough time for people who are working on health goals. That’s especially true if you’ve recently broken bad habits. Falling back into bad habits is easy during times of stress. As much fun as the holidays are, they can be stressful! Whether you’re visiting people or having visitors, holidays throw off your schedule. That can make falling into old patterns seem comforting or inevitable — even when you don’t want to do it!

The question becomes, how do you replace the habits you’ve dumped for new, better ones that will stick? Getting rid of your old ways was step one; filling the void so they can’t come back is the next step to ensuring your future is secure. Repetition is how to make a new habit stick and become second nature, but there’s more to it than just that.

Everyone thinks, ‘OK, I’m a stress eater.’ They don’t think ‘I’m a stress exerciser or I’m a stress worker,’ but in our research we find that people do those things as well just as often as acting badly,” said Prof. Wendy Wood of the Univ. of Southern California.

Finding the right healthy habit is key. While it’s true that you can replace stress eating with another stress reaction, each person is different in their stress activity. Some people are stress cleaners. Some people can turn to reading. You can replace your smoke break with stepping out of the room to listen to your favorite song — it might seem like an antisocial thing to do, but it’s no different than leaving for a cigarette. Other things work for different people. You might find that taking a warm shower after a long day can be as calming as snacks on the couch.

This is such a personal thing to feel nourished and feel like you are taking care of your own life,” said Michelle Icard, who works with people to build productive ways to react to stress.

Another important thing is to make your new habits convenient. If you want to be more social, find a club that meets at a time that is convenient to you, has commitments that are achievable and that you genuinely enjoy. If you want to go to the gym more, do not sign up for one across town, or that isn’t open on your schedule. Another option is to just buy a cheap exercise bike or treadmill and do it at home. If your new habit takes time, schedule it into your day to make it easier to stick with.

You can also tie your new habit to something more enjoyable that you didn’t do before. Many people spend the time exercising at home to watch trashy TV or read pulpy books or celebrity magazines they usually wouldn’t. It adds some fun and incentive to do something you wouldn’t otherwise do and can rewire your brain. When you want to watch the next episode of the show or get into the next chapter, you’ll find yourself heading to the treadmill!

Using these tips, you can build better habits and erase the old ones. It can become second nature. Just like it seemed impossible to break your old habits, you’ll find these new healthy actions are just a part of your life and not doing them will seem unthinkable.  

Banner image: Elena Mozhvilo via Unsplash

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