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Let’s say you are trying to cut back on sugar or stop eating fast food, but you are lazy and cannot find the time to prepare or cook your own food. Or you want to start exercising, but even a mere thought about going to gym or running makes you unwilling to even consider how to activate your body. It seems as a mission impossible to put an end on such unhealthy behaviors.
It is all part of your routine. Every day, every week, and every month – we do mostly the same activities and start to identify with them. We do certain things automatically, thus don’t even know what we are doing. When it comes to food, most people think about it as the fuel that keeps the body moving. That’s only a half of the truth.
If you are inclined to go for a run every time you come home from work – that’s a habit.
When you instinctively reach for a drink every time you are stressed, or a cigarette every time you are nervous – that’s another habit. A behavior that is automatic.
We automatically wash hands or put on a seat-belt. We drink coffee in the morning, also automatically. Certain behavioral patterns we do over and over again are literally carved in our neural pathways. We form both healthy and unhealthy habits all our lives, and we mostly only think about breaking the bad ones instead of forming new, healthy behaviors. Developing new habits is equally important as destroying bad habits. Moreover, destroying can mean starting healthy habits by breaking the unhealthy habits.
Eating healthy food and sticking to a healthy diet can become a habit.
Thanks to decades of research we now know that the actions we repeat in a consistent context lead to actions being activated once we are in the same environment, due to the associative learning. Thanks to psychological research we also know that habits are relevant to health thus we can and should turn health-promoting behaviors into habits.
All habit-forming activities – parallel parking or exercising – follow the same behavioral pattern.
We can turn to healthier habits by repeating an action consistently in the same context.
But is it that simple?
How habits are formed?
We are victims of habits – I am certain you here this sentence often. I hear it frequently, but only spoken in the context of habits one is less proud of – to put it mildly. What I propose is to change the context, and start thinking about habits as something we can do to feel or be better.
It’s never too late to form new behavior
To understand how to build good and healthy habits we must understand how habits are formed, that is, to understand the structure of habit formation.
Science explains that it takes around 66 days to form a habit. However, this varies greatly depending on person, and circumstances, and behavior. But what seems to be the biggest obstacle?
The obstacle is in our mind, of course. Precisely – our mind.
Even when we know we are doing something wrong, it’s not easy to actually change the behavioral pattern. Even if we know what we need to do, we cannot make ourselves to perform an action. Our mind is of dual nature and doesn’t make a difference between behavioral patterns in terms of positive or negative and that’s why habits are strong and hard to break.
When it comes to our brain it’s somewhat harder to change behavioral patterns we are not even aware of. But it is possible, even, desirable to introduce new, healthy habits and get rid of the old and bad ones.