Why You Need Better Habits & How To Achieve Them

There was a quote that said something like this: In times of stress, you are always going back to your habits (paraphrasing). Which made me think about how important is to have more good habits ingrained in you than toxic ones. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, of course, we should have only healthy habits if possible.

Photo by Ron Lach

But I believe that we are always going to have some toxic or at least not so beneficial habits, and the goal shouldn’t be to eradicate them all. We should focus on building better habits that will prevail or sometimes even replace the negative habits. You will still have some guilty habits, which I think should not be guilty, but rather we should look at them objectively and take ownership that we do that thing that has a negative impact on us, and probably enjoy it.

In time if your focus will be on cementing the beneficial habits, the damaging habits will happen less and less, so that they will become more of a once in a while event than a habit.

Where do habits come from?

Habits are shortcuts for the brain. Because we don’t have to think when doing daily actions, such as brushing our teeth, we are freeing up our brainpower for the more demanding task.

In his essay Of Habit, the French philosopher Ravaisson describes habits as familiar yet mysterious. Actions that are repeated over time gradually became habits, with a curious life of their own. Usually, the positive habits are developed mindfully, with an end goal such as getting fitter, healthier or smarter in some area. Some habits develop unconsciously, from internal or external stress, and these tend to be negative or maladaptive habits.

Why build better habits?

Researchers from Duke University have shown that over 40% of what we do is determined not by decisions but by habits. This suggests that we can change a huge part of our lives if we focus on building healthy habits. Easier said than done though.

This also means that when a stressful situation arises we are immediately going for the chocolate, the cigarette, the negative thoughts, and so on, even if in the past 3 days let’s say we’ve been ‘perfectly good’ with habits. That is why I said we will always have some detrimental habits, and even as we work on the good ones they will show up. The more we practice good habits the more likely to respond to them when we encounter a disruptive situation. That is why my goal is not to have perfect habits and no bad ones, but to focus on the good ones until they became my standard response, and then whenever I turn to the damaging one, I will be able to get back on track the next day with no guilt and no permanent damages.

How to build them?

  1. Repetition. No matter how motivated you are if you are not doing the desired habit every day, it will not become a habit. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
  2. Values. Define your values really well, in detail. When you are crystal clear that on them, motivation will be found as well. For instance one of my values is being physically active, movement is one of my top values, therefore going for a walk, exercising, taking the stairs, going for a hike come easy for me and I find them as fun activities.
  3. Reward. When engaging with a new-future-to-be habit, rewards are important, and there is no need to buy yourself something or to eat that piece of cake, the reward will first come in the brain in the form of chemicals that will boost our mood, and then it could be something like extra few minutes for yourself, feeling strong, knowing something new. Learn more about how habits & rewards link together from this video.
  4. Patterns. You might want to introduce a new habit, but you don’t seem to have time to practice it. Review your daily actions as objectively as you can, write them down, and see which one doesn’t benefit you enough. We all spend too much time doing something that seems needed such as watching Netflix to relax, scrolling 2 hours on social media to connect, or eating too much sugar to have energy, but after you assess these you will realize they are not giving you what you claim they do. So you will be able to replace them or to shorten how much attention you give them and make room for your new habit.

Habits define a great part of how we act and think, therefore who we are every day. If you want to improve your behavior you need to understand and work on your habits, and the motivation will come as well. Of course, it will take time to form these habits, but after they have been formed, you don’t need to worry about getting motivated to do something. Plus, once you have better habits ingrained in your lifestyle, no matter how difficult the times are you are going to respond better to them.

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