Want to Build Healthy Habits? Here are 3 ways to get started.

Want to Build Healthy Habits? Here are 3 ways to get started.

Have you ever set big goals for yourself only to get derailed a short time later? You’re not alone. According to studies, a new habit can take between 59 and 70 days to form – that’s roughly 2-3 months. And for those of us who like to see positive changes fast (which, let’s be honest, is all of us), those first days and weeks of a new discipline can be discouraging if we don’t experience success.

How Habits Impact Your Brain

According to an article from Healthline called, “The Science of Habit,” habits form from more than just sheer willpower. Because our sensory nervous systems are wired to seek out dopamine (also known as the “feel-good” hormone), there is a direct correlation between habit formation and positive reinforcement.

From the article:

“Any habit we develop is because our brain is designed to pick up on things that reward us and punish us,” explains Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist based in New York City.  When your brain recognizes a pattern, such as a connection between action and satisfaction, it files that information away neatly in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. This is also where we develop emotions and memories, but it’s not where conscious decisions are made - that’s the prefrontal cortex. This may be what makes habits so hard to break. They come from a brain region that’s out of your conscious control, so you’re barely aware you’re doing them, if at all.”

So how can we make conscious decisions to work with the natural makeup of our brains to create healthy habits? 

Here are 3 positive steps you can take to set yourself up for success and achieve your habit-making goals.

1. Don't go too hard too fast.

Changing everything at once can be overwhelming. Start with small, measurable steps. Trying to accomplish too much, too soon will inevitably lead to disappointment. So for example, if your goal is to develop the habit of running every day, but you currently don’t run at all, start small. Plan to run short distances a few times a week, and then gradually increase. That way you’re building your body’s resilience and experiencing the “reward” of meeting your goal a little at a time.

2. Make sure your new habits are enjoyable.

For example, if you want to exercise more, choose exercises that are beneficial for your body but that you also enjoy. Don’t start with the exercises you dread. 

Some habits in and of themselves are not – and probably never will be – super enjoyable. But focus on the reward of completing that task instead (remember the dopamine?). So for example, if you want to develop the habit of flossing every day, instead of focusing on the flossing itself (not the most interesting task), focus on how clean and fresh your teeth feel after you floss. That positive reward will go a long way in helping to establish your new goal.

3. Know Your Why

Habit building is basically the attempt to rewire your brain. A huge part of this process is tapping into your motivation. Why is this habit important to you? Why does it matter? Once you start your new habit, set aside a moment or two to reflect on how that habit makes you feel. Jot it down in a journal or add a note in your phone. Being intentional about reflection will go a long way in helping you stay consistent on the days you’re tempted to give up. 

For example, if your goal is to give up soda, take note of how it feels when you make it through a day without one. More energy? Less of a bad taste in your mouth? Pride in the example you’re setting for your kids? Whatever it is, jot it down. Remembering the rewards of your success will give you the boost you need to keep going! 

Some Habit-Building Tools

Below are a few free apps to assist you in building new habits. Click the links to check out each one! Through hard work and dedication, we know you can reach the goals you’ve set to become a healthier, happier individual. 

Everyday App – available for both Android and iPhone

Streaks App – iPhone only

Habit Daily – iPhone only

Mary Holloman

Mary Holloman

Mary is the Communications Coordinator at The Pregnancy Network.