How to Create New Healthy Habits
how to create new healthy habits
We are all creatures of habits,
Whether we like it or not. Habits can be good, beneficial, helpful or productive. There can be healthy habits or unhealthy ones. Habits can also be less useful, frustrating, destructive or addictive.
Practice makes perfect
Firstly, let’s start with a simple science lesson:
Habits are built in our brain by connection of neurons. Both newborn babies and adults have those neurons available and ready to use. There also are synapses which are the connections between neurons in your brain. So here comes the idea that our brain ‘removes’ any connections between the neurons we don’t use and builds stronger synapses we use more frequently. Clever, right?
If you’re good at something and practice it often, your connections between those neurons will be stronger and faster. It is what happens when we develop and master a skill (e.g. knitting). On the contrary, if you’ve never done knitting, your brain moves away those unused synapses and puts energy towards building connections for other skills you might already have and use frequently. Have you ever wondered why it takes a while to get good at something? This could be part of the reason :) From a biological stand point, the saying that ‘practice makes perfect’ does really make sense! James Clear has explained it superbly in his book and blog post.
You may not even realize, but there’s a huge number of small habits that you do every day and that our brain created strong connections for. We get up with when the alarm rings, brush teeth after breakfast, put your shoes on before heading outside, say ‘hello’ when you see a familiar face on the street. All those are our habits that we’ve learnt to do automatically. How about other habits that we may want to start? Is there a way to make them as nicely automated?
New Healthy Habits
The answer is YES. There’s a method we can use to create new habits. And it actually involves using the existing habits. Inspired by the Atomic Habits book and also the Tiny Habits challenge I’ve done recently, I started to practice adding some new small habits into my daily life. What we’re essentially doing is using the strong synapses (connections between brain neurons) of our current habits and use them to create new connections (i.e. new habits/skill). Our brain has been wired into specific habits and behaviors and we want to use that momentum to create new skills or habits that would be built on top of them. Again, clever, right?!
How does it work?
For me, it has become a few small things over the last 2-3 months. For example:
+ After I wash my face first thing in the morning, I do tongue scraping (new habit -adds in 30 seconds)
+ While I wait for the kettle to boil in the morning (old habit), I do 3-4 longer exhalations breaths (new habit -adds no extra time)
+ After the morning meditation, I do 50 glute bridges and 15 pelvic floor exercises (new habit -adds in around 4 minutes)
+ Before putting my pants or dress on in the morning, I do 25 squats (adds less than 1 minute).
An easier way to healthy habits?
A lot of the times the additional new habit can be a very small action and it doesn’t add a huge amount of time to your routine. And actually, it should be a very small step that you introduce at first, so your brain doesn’t get overwhelmed and you don't have chance to get discouraged. The Tiny Habits Challenge even suggests that we set a habit as small as flossing 1 tooth after your evening brushing. Or taking 1 slow breath in. The idea behind it is that the smaller initial new behavior is, the more likely we are to stick with it.
Here’s a simple guide on how you can create your own better habits:
+ find an anchor in your day (a stable repetitive behavior that you do each day, either once or multiple times a day, e.g. brushing teeth, leave the house OR use toilet, washing hands, drinking tea)
+ create a new behavior you’d like to introduce and match it with the right anchor.
So far I realized that the secret is to try to match the new habit with the best anchor to trigger the new behavior. For this in order to work, you must be aware of your behaviors and everyday doings to identify where you’d like to add something new. It's really about being sensible - I only will try to add something new on top of a current habit if I know I have time/circumstances allow (e.g. I wouldn’t add a 3 min meditation after my morning coffee as I recognize it isn’t the quiet time of the day for me; I wouldn’t do a quick stretching exercise after I put my jeans on in the morning, as it isn’t as comfy or relaxing).
How to start creating new healthy habits?
A few steps I recommend you start with are:
make a list of a few solid anchors in your daily life (single ones and repetitive ones) (e.g. drinking your lemon water in the morning, brushing teeth after breakfast, hanging up the phone, getting into the car)
make a list of a few small behaviors you’d like to introduce
start matching those behaviors to the right existing habits
begin with 2-3 small habits to introduce daily and stick with them!
How habit stacking can help with healthy living?
You can start your wellness and health journey at any time – it's always only your choice and decision and there’ll never be a perfect day, special moment or the right week to do it. Building new small habits can be very effective, as it doesn’t feel overwhelming, and tiny chunks are usually more manageable for us for a number of reasons. If done consistently, the introduced new small changes will eventually become a healthy habit and something that ‘we just do’.
Here’re a few micro healthy habits that could bring wonderful longer-term benefits (if done consistently):
Pack my plate with vegetables first when a prep a meal for myself.
When you wake up, your first drink will be warm water with lemon or apple cider vinegar.
When you wash your face in the morning, use a tongue scraper after.
Do 20 squats/ press ups/ simple jumping jacks / easy exercise of choice before getting dressed each morning.
Drink a glass of water each time you enter the kitchen.
When you leave the house, set a quick intention for the day ahead.
When you cook, listen to an inspiring podcast.
Each night after you tuck your kids in bed, say 2 positive affirmations to yourself (or even better, do it with them!).
I quite like the concept, as we are not creating a new habit out of ‘nothing’ and not relying completely on our motivation and commitment (which usually doesn’t work). We use our current habits and a cue they give us to create a new habit. I find it very fascinating and efficient, don’t you?
Also, the idea of starting really small resonates with me – we often overlook things and think of behaviors as ‘all or nothing’. But the simplicity is what is key and what creates new healthy habits. Plus, the truth is, everything big needs to start small.
How will you try the habit stacking?
Where in your day you could add a small action that will grow into a healthy habit? Please let me know over on Instagram!
Try this Tiny Habits Challenge 5-day program for free! (it’s not sponsored, I just found it helpful and enjoyable, thought you might want to give it a go!)