Habits play an important role in your mental and physical health, productivity, relationships, and self-esteem. In this Healthline article, Mindpath Health’s Taish Malone, LPC, PhD, gives tips to make, keep, and break habits.
Any behavior or action you engage in regularly counts as a habit — from having coffee as soon as you get to the office to brushing your teeth just before going to bed.
Some habits can promote physical and mental wellness, while others might have more of an unwanted impact on your everyday life. With a little effort, though, it’s possible to change habits that no longer serve you and create new ones that do.
How can habits benefit you?
Doing something repeatedly makes you more likely to stick with it since behaviors eventually become automatic and effortless. When a habit benefits your life, the rewards you reap can also motivate you to stick with that behavior.
Stephani Jahn, LCMHC notes that habits can be empowering and give you a greater sense of achievement.
“Positive habits don’t just boost your self-esteem, either. They can also reduce stress and anxiety by offering a degree of structure and predictability to your everyday life,” explains Elizabeth Barlow, LICSW.
Can you teach yourself new habits?
You can absolutely teach yourself new habits. The key often lies in “stacking” a new habit on top of an existing one. This helps you remember the new behavior until it becomes automatic.
If you want to start a practice of daily positive affirmations, you might put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror to remind you to repeat them when you wash your face or brush your teeth. Eventually, you won’t need the sticky note to remind you — simply going into the bathroom may become the cue that triggers your affirmations.
As you try to establish a new habit, it always helps to have patience with yourself: It takes about 66 days of daily practice for an action to become a habit.
A few more expert-backed tips for reinforcing new habits:
- Make it realistic: When a habit is more feasible for you, you’re more likely to engage in it regularly — and consistency can help make it stick.
- Make it as convenient as possible: “The easier you can make your new habit, the greater the chances you’ll stick with it,” says Dr. Harold Hong, a board-certified psychiatrist.
- Practice your habit at the same time every day: “You’ll often find it much easier to get into a habit when you do it at the same time because certain external cues can serve as reminders,” says Barlow.
- Cheer yourself on: People who feel good about their progress in developing new habits are more likely to stick with them. Malone advises coming up with ways to celebrate small wins to keep yourself motivated — like posting encouraging messages on your wall or fridge about how far you’ve come.
“Don’t criticize yourself if you accidentally miss a day or two when trying to form a new habit,” Taish Malone, PhD, a Texas-based licensed professional counselor with Mindpath Health says. Research from 2012 suggested that occasionally forgetting to engage in the behavior you want to adopt generally won’t deter you from eventually forming the habit.
What about breaking old habits?
The best way to break undesired habits is to replace them with more helpful ones. It may also help to track your daily progress toward breaking a habit in a journal or regularly check in with a friend to share your efforts.
A few other tips for replacing unhelpful habits:
- Be mindful: If you want to cut back on eating processed snacks, you might compare how your body feels after you eat a bag of chips from the vending machine to a sliced apple with yogurt and walnuts. Building this awareness can help you focus on why you want to make the change.
- Acknowledge the reason for change: Do you hope to feel better physically or mentally? Do you want to use your time for something more productive? Identifying the factors motivating you to make a change can help you stay on track as you make an effort to kick the unwanted habit.
- Identify your triggers: Recognizing specific triggers can help you create change more easily.
How to get support
If you’re looking to build new, more helpful habits, consider getting support from a therapist.
According to Malone, a therapist can help you to uncover the root causes or reasons behind your habits, which can provide important information to help change them.
The bottom line
Habits can play an important role in multiple aspects of your life, including mental and physical health, productivity, relationships, and self-esteem.
It’s always possible to build new, helpful habits and change habits that no longer align with your needs. Just remember to cultivate patience and self-compassion during the process, since forming new habits — and making them stick — can take time.
Read the full Healthline article with sources.
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