According to Duke University, up to 40% of our actions each day are in fact habits we have developed over time, meaning a lot of what we do throughout our day is subconscious and ingrained into our lifestyles. This can be a good thing when we have formed healthy habits and automatic behaviours, but the pendulum can easily swing the other way when we find ourselves slipping into more damaging or unhealthy habits.
But what is a habit? The dictionary defines the word ‘habit’ as ‘a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up’. When we think about habits, particularly in the negative sense, we often focus on the ‘hard to give up’ part, which tricks us into thinking we are stuck with these behaviours, such as drinking soda or biting our nails. However, this can also work in the reverse; once we build or form a healthy habit, that will also become hard to give up, meaning it has become an automatic practice for us.
But how can we form a healthy habit? The answer is simple and can be found in the definition itself: ‘regular tendency or practice’. To form a habit, whether it’s negative or positive, you have to repeat the action over and over until it becomes something you no longer think about. This means that if you practice your desired habit and make it a repetitive action in your daily life, it will eventually become a part of your routine and you won’t have to think about it.
However, while the answer might be simple, that does not automatically mean that it is easy. Forming a habit, especially a healthy one, can be difficult. For the first few weeks, it will take discipline and determination, which can feel frustrating and disheartening at first. The main idea is to stick with it until you reach the point where it’s no longer something that frustrates you or feels tedious, which is often cited as being roughly 4 weeks. To make this easier, it is recommended to go in stages; if you habitually drink 3 cokes a day, for example, then cutting down to two and then one can make the process more sustainable than abruptly stopping altogether. Equally, with habits, it is often the case that we lose one bad habit just to replace it with another, so take advantage of this by proactively replacing the unhealthy habit with a healthier option. If you drink fizzy beverages for the flavour, then try replacing them with a sparkling or flavoured water (paying attention to the sugar contents, to ensure you’re not replacing one sugary drink with another).
So, what are some examples of healthy habits? Here are five habits to incorporate into your daily life to ensure you are thriving in optimum health and wellbeing.
- Drink a glass of water before you get out of bed.
Many of us struggle to get enough water throughout the day. Mild dehydration can impact our daily lives, causing headaches, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating, and more severe cases of dehydration can be extremely dangerous. Having adequate water intake is fundamental to keep our bodies running and functioning at its best, so drinking a glass before your day has even started is a great way to get a head start on staying hydrated
- Have some designated relaxation time
Time for relaxation and recuperation can often be hard to come by, but to prevent things like burnout and excessive stress and exhaustion, it is important to consider rest and relaxation as equally important as exercise and proper nutrition. However, sometimes we find ourselves wasting time doing nothing while feeling as though we should be doing something, which prevents our minds and our bodies from truly resting. Instead, have some designated time to relax scheduled into your daily or weekly routine, and be proactive about it. Put your phone in another room and put a film on with your friends or family instead of mindlessly scrolling and feeling regretful afterwards. Making relaxation something you’re serious about is a great habit to get into and will prevent you burning out in the long run.
- Practice mindful eating
Many of us have gotten into the habit of eating quickly or eating past the point of being satiated purely because there is food left on our plate. It is also common for people to try and multi-task at mealtimes, watching television or looking at your phone while they eat and barely paying attention to their food or their body. There are a few ways in which we can be more mindful while we eat. Firstly, try and get into the habit of putting your food or utensil down between mouthfuls, and only picking it back up once you have swallowed your food. This encourages you to eat more slowly, which allows your body to register when its full more easily. Secondly, many of us were taught to finish our plates, regardless of whether or not we were still hungry. Once you’ve gotten into the habit of eating more slowly, try and recognise the signs of fullness and allow yourself to leave food on the plate if you are no longer hungry. With time, you will learn your own limits and can adjust your portion sizes accordingly to avoid food waste. Finally, avoid distractions while eating. Of course, having conversations or discussions while eating is natural and good, but distracting yourself with television or your telephone disrupts your mindful eating habits. Try and get into the habit of paying attention to your food, and you might find yourself enjoying it more!
- Make walking a daily activity
Whether its to increase your daily energy expenditure, to get some fresh air, or even get some much-needed vitamin D in, taking a walk outside is great for us in many ways. Of all the types of cardiovascular exercise, walking is one of the most accessible to most fitness or ability levels and can improve your health in many ways. There are already many tips out there, from getting off the bus a few stops early, to taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even taking a walk on your lunch break, but no matter how you do it, getting some kind of walk in each day is a valuable habit to develop. If you’re working from home, taking some time during a lunch break to get outside, and moving is a great way to find time in a busy schedule that might not otherwise allow for much activity, and if you work in an office then walking part of your commute is also a great option. All you need is some comfy shoes and some water, and you’re set!
- Practice good sleep hygiene
We all know by now how important sleep is, but it cannot be overstated just how detrimental to your health a lack of sleep can be. Creating an optimal sleeping environment is crucial; use black-out blinds to block out any natural light, separate your work and sleep spaces, and make your bed as comfortable as possible to ensure that your quality of sleep is high. More importantly, make a habit of going to bed half an hour earlier, and using that time to wind down and switch off instead of getting in some last-minute work or chores. Keep your phone away from your bed and avoid distractions or stimulations before you go to sleep.
These are just a few suggestions for habits you can incorporate into your daily routine or replace your unhealthier habits with if necessary. Of course, there are hundreds of small changes you can make each day to become healthier or to work towards thriving in optimal health and wellbeing, but everyone is different, and each person knows their own needs and habits the best. Pay attention to the choices you make each day and how they influence or effect your overall lifestyle, and if they don’t align with your goals and aspirations, then you know that those are the habits to change.
By Abigail Whitney of Likambi Global Publishing