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“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
Often, when we think of changing our habits, we think of good habits vs. bad habits.
Smoking versus quitting smoking.
Biting your nails versus leaving your fingers alone.
Staring at your screen right before bed versus putting your phone down and practicing good sleep hygiene.
Developing good habits can create meaningful, positive change in your life. Forming those kinds of positive habits is an ongoing process that takes time and commitment.
Let’s take a look at some good habits you can develop that have the power to improve both your physical and mental well-being. We’ll also give you tips to drop bad habits to make way for habits that promote personal development.
Why should you start thinking actively about your current habits?
Before we dive into the power of habit, it’s important to understand what habits are.
Habits are behaviors or actions you perform regularly. Some might be habits you do at work, such as leadership behaviors. Others might be actions you do in the morning while getting ready for the day. These kinds of rituals happen automatically. We do them instinctively, almost without thinking.
Although we do them subconsciously, you do have control over your habits. Habits don't just simply appear. They're learned behaviors that work almost like a reflex over time. These repetitive actions are triggered by a certain context or automatic thought pattern.
For example, brushing your teeth is a daily habit. After eating breakfast, your brain knows that the next step is to go to the bathroom. Muscle memory takes over as you put the toothpaste on your toothbrush and you start brushing your teeth.
You’ve done it so many times before, at roughly the same time on a daily basis, that it becomes a natural part of your daily routine. This kind of repetitive consistency has turned the action into a habit.
So why should you start thinking actively about your current habits? Simple — because habits are incredibly powerful parts of our lives.
Once we become more mindful of our habits and daily actions, we can make improvements where we see fit.
Try to practice mindfulness and healthy curiosity toward your everyday behaviors.
What are the bad habits you do instinctively that you would like to change?
What habits do you already have that you’re proud of? How can you build on those good habits even more?
Being aware of your current habits is the first step toward changing your behavior for the better. You have the power to transform your life through the power of habits.
How do habits work?
The idea of a habit is quite simple, but its formation is scientific. Because of the power habits have over our lives, there are many studies on the neurobiological processes related to habits.
All habits start as part of a psychological pattern, also called a habit loop.
James Clear focuses on this habit loop in his best-selling book, “Atomic Habits.” He draws on neuroscience and psychology to explain how this loop is made of four important components:
- Cue: Cues are what triggers our brains to start a new behavior. When we see this cue, our brain predicts a reward. This naturally creates a craving. You can respond to cues without even realizing it.
- Craving: Craving is the motivational force behind our habits. Without motivation or desire, we have no reason to act.
- Response: The response is the act you perform or thought you have. It is essentially a habit. Whether this response happens depends on how motivated you are and if you have the capability. It also depends on if there are any obstacles in your way.
- Reward: The last stage of the habit loop is reward. This is the reward your brain initially predicted from the cue. It is the end goal of every habit. Once you receive this reward, your brain reaffirms the association between the cue and your reward. This closes the feedback loop and completes the habit cycle.
Let’s look at drinking coffee every morning as an example of a habit.
When you walk into your kitchen, the cue might be your coffee machine. Whether you’re aware of it or not, seeing your coffee machine sparks a craving.
Seeing the coffee machine makes you envision the smell, taste, and feeling of a hot cup of coffee. This desire leads to action.
Your response is to take out some coffee grounds and turn on the machine to get the coffee brewing.
Finally, you can receive your reward. A hot cup of coffee. Tomorrow, the craving will happen again, and the feedback loop continues.
This four-step process of how we form and break habits is extremely important for understanding why we do what we do. Without being aware of the cues behind our habits, there’s little chance of changing our habits.
This cycle has the power to change what we do in our everyday lives. And in turn, that gives us more control over our self-management and what actions we take.
Good habits vs. bad habits
Not all habits are beneficial to us. It’s important to decipher between good habits and bad habits. This way, you can work on building good habits that bring positive results and breaking bad habits that don’t serve you.
Good habits are those repetitive actions or behaviors you want to repeat. They have positive physical, emotional, or psychological consequences.
Bad habits are those actions you repeat that have negative consequences. Some bad habits are harmless, while others can have a deeper, long-term impact.
Many of our habits are formed without us even realizing it. Our brains go into autopilot. This can make it difficult to know which of our habits are bad or good.
To determine whether a habit is good or bad, think about the effects of the habit. Ask yourself some of these questions:
- How does doing this habit make me feel?
- What are the physical impacts of this habit? Is this habit negatively affecting my physical well-being?
- How is this habit affecting my mental well-being?
- Do I feel like I have control over my habit? Am I caught in a spiral doing something I don’t want to do?
- Does the habit only feel good at the moment? What are the long-term consequences of the habit?
Once you’ve realized your good habits from bad habits, it’s time to rewire your brain. Here’s how you can break those bad habits.
Quitting bad habits
With determination, resilience, and the right mindset, you can break nearly any bad habit.
Here are some tips on how to stop harmful habits:
1. Identify your triggers
The habit loop always starts with a cue. This trigger is what gets the bad habit in motion.
Pay attention to what triggers your bad habit. Once you are aware of what causes the habit, you can react appropriately. You can either take yourself out of the situation, or you can be more mindful of your determination to end a bad habit.
For example, being around others who smoke may trigger your desire to smoke. If you want to break your habit of smoking, remove yourself from the situation completely. If that’s not possible, be mindful of your cravings and remind yourself of why you want to quit smoking.
2. Practice mindfulness
When we’re more aware of our thoughts, we can make better decisions, even in the face of unhealthy cravings and temptations.
When you feel yourself wanting to revert to a bad habit, make a note of your thoughts and feelings. Become present in the moment. Be curious and aware of your thoughts and bodily sensations.
3. Use reminders
Because self-awareness is so important in breaking the bad habit cycle, use reminders. Leave notes for yourself in the place your bad habit usually happens. This will help you rethink the action before doing it.
For example, leave encouraging sticky notes on your fridge to remind yourself to eat healthily. This kind of visual reminder can prompt you to reach for healthy foods that are good for concentration instead of a sugary treat.
Keep in mind that the amount of time it takes to break a habit will depend on the habit.
Starting 48 good habits
Need some inspiration on healthy habits you can build? Here’s a good habits list to help you get started.
Remember, habits don’t just happen. They are made. You have the power to build new habits and break old ones.
The best habit you can build is the habit of forming new, positive habits.
- Make time for exercise. Physical activity is an important part of your life and contributes to physical well-being.
- Create a morning routine. Consistently doing a ritual first thing sets the tone for a day of productivity.
- Eat a healthy diet. Healthy eating is an important aspect of a holistic lifestyle.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep a night and practice good sleep hygiene.
- Set boundaries with technology and social media. No screen-time for at least two hours before bed.
- Practice pilates or online yoga. Over time, yoga deepens your body awareness and builds your mind-body connection.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
- Create a mantra or personal affirmation statement. Repeat it to yourself in the morning.
- Start journaling. This self-care practice can be therapeutic and can help clear your mind.
- Go for therapy. Receiving guidance from a professional is a good habit to build.
- Create a life plan or a 5-year plan.
- Write a personal mission statement and return to it regularly.
- Do bodywork. Therapies like chiropractic, stretching, and reflexology release physical and emotional tension.
- Learn something new. Choose a topic you’re interested in and develop your understanding of it in a fun way. Listen to a podcast. Read a book. Take an online course.
- Focus on one task at a time. Research has shown that multitasking is bad for your productivity and overall well-being.
- Use time blocking to maximize your day.
- Take time for breaks. Set a reminder to take a five-minute walk every hour.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. You can’t do everything at once, so be deliberate about your time.
- Assign priorities to your tasks.
- Celebrate small victories.
- Limit your number of working hours. Constantly working long hours can negatively affect your productivity.
- Develop time management techniques.
- Keep a neat workspace and home. Make it a habit to routinely declutter your surroundings. Your physical environment has a significant effect on your behavior and the way that you work.
- Plan your day the night before. Make a list of what you want to achieve the next day and how you are going to do it.
- Use the Eisenhower Matrix to help you decide on and prioritize tasks.
- Track how you spend your time. Keeping a schedule will make you more conscious about where your time goes. Use the results to be more productive.
- Practice gratitude. Start a gratitude journal where you write down five things every day you’re grateful for.
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Define your personal goals and choose an action plan for how you are going to achieve them.
- Be part of something bigger.
- Practice self-reflection. Reflect at the end of each day on what you did or did not do.
- Build emotional regulation skills.
- Connect with others. Make it a habit to call friends you haven’t spoken to in a while. Set up a lunch date with your parents.
- Spend time in nature. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well-being.
- Practice positive self-talk. Say something positive to yourself in the mirror every morning.
- Hug your friends, family, and pets. Hugging boosts feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine.
- Get outside your comfort zone. Be adventurous by trying a new activity. This could be physically daring or pushing yourself mentally.
- Make a new friend. Speak to someone outside your team. Getting to know new people at work creates a positive workplace culture and builds employee relations.
- Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, speak up.
- Learn to listen more.
- Express your appreciation. A simple “thank you” goes a long way.
- Put your phone away.
- Learn new skills. Upskilling yourself has the power to take your career further.
- Take a proper lunch break.
- Set boundaries with your colleagues.
- Admit your mistakes. Let your team know where you went wrong and what you’ve learned from the situation.
- Set long-term goals for your career.
- Avoid gossip.
- Reward yourself. When you accomplish something big at work, celebrate it. When you find yourself successfully building a new habit, acknowledge your achievement. This is an important part of habit formation.
Build a life of good habits
Humans are creatures of habit. Our habits, both good and bad, shape our attitudes and actions. They can determine our success or failure.
Forming good habits takes time, patience, and self-discipline. But a life filled with positive habits has the power to create real, positive change. Building good habits is an important aspect of personal growth.
Now that you know more about good habits, it’s time to make a change.
What are the bad habits that you would like to break? And what good habits are you going to develop?
Get in touch with a BetterUp Coach. We’ll help you develop good habits and guide you every step of the way.
Vice President of Alliance Solutions