Learning to Form Good Habits

Changing for the better seems to always come to the forefront of life at the beginning of a new year with the advent of New Year’s resolutions. If you and your family don’t follow this tradition, but strive to form good habits these suggestions will help you do so no matter what you wish to call them. Also, remember that research has shown that good habits can be formed at any age if the individual is willing to make them an ingrained part of their daily life.

1. It is all in your head. Good habits derive from following routines because they become ingrained in the part of the brain that automates behaviors. This allows the prefrontal cortex to be free for higher-level decision-making tasks.

2.Changes you really want to make. If you are making changes you feel you should do versus what you want to do, then it will be harder to make them become habits. Focus on making changes in your life you wish to see happen and gain confidence.

3.Identify the neurological loop or trigger to break an old habit and form a new one. The neurological loop is made up of a cue, routine and reward. If you like to snack between meals, and wish to break the habit just saying no to it is rarely successful. What needs to be done is to replace the habit with a new one that you find rewarding. Maybe it is a short walk, reading a few pages in a book or listening to music. What researchers have found is that when people get up from a task to snack they are rarely hungry but just need a change of scenery or a break to clear their heads.

4.Find a new way to reward yourself. If you are a person hooked on a habit that you wish to break, it can help to find a new reward system in your life. A worker in an office setting might search on the internet more than they wish to at work. To break this habit find a new reward such as walking outside for a few minutes, talking to a coworker for a short period of time or just sit and think about what you wish to accomplish when you get home that day. This new behavior is your reward when you need a break in the action.

5.Changes should start small. Starting to exercise more routinely is a great habit to cultivate but try to build this habit in steps. Instead of saying you  will go to the gym 5 times a week start with two times. Researchers have found that when people begin new habits this way they often surprise themselves by surpassing the small goal they set without even trying.

6.Avoid taking on too much. Take the example of wanting to lose 40 pounds. This goal is made up of many habit changes in one life and trying to do this quickly can be hard. Experts suggest instead that you break this goal down into steps. Try taking on only 2 to 3 changes at a time and then build on your successes. In the case of losing weight two items to start with might be making better choices when you eat out and only have dessert twice a week.

7.Three weeks does not make a habit stick. Apparently, there is an old adage that if you can do something for 21 days then it will stay with you. Studies at UC Berkeley have shown this not to be true. Easy habits can be cemented often in a few days while harder ones can take months. Perseverance is a huge key to success.

8.Don’t be afraid to enlist help. People love to have company in the tasks they do and this is also true when it comes to changing habits. Even if your family member or friend is not joining in your goal just having them know your intentions often will help. The encouragement of others and sharing your progress can be a powerful tool to keep you going forward.

9.Celebrating is good. Do celebrate even small successes as these pats on the back even if they are mental release dopamine. Your brain’s response to this neurotransmitter tells you this habit is worth keeping.

10. Setbacks are learning opportunities. Forming new habits is hard and setbacks are part of the process. Instead of berating yourself take a step back and ask what went wrong. The exercise of dissecting what happened not only will lead to powerful insights but will also fill you with a sense of accomplishment. Shrug off the setback and use the clues you discover to make the habit stick.

Enjoy a great 2015.


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