Whenever you read an article on habits it seems that they’re focussed on how to get rid of bad habits like picking your nose, smoking or biting your fingers. Most of us have unwanted habits and trying to overcome them can often improve our lives in a number of ways.
However what’s also important to recognize is that not all habits are necessarily bad, and that actually all they are is repetitive behaviours that you start to do without thinking about. This means they’re bad if the behaviour is destructive, unhealthy or antisocial, but if you could develop a positive habit that you performed regularly without thinking about, then this could actually be a very good thing and would be an invaluable tool for self-improvement.
Here are some examples of positive habits you could pick up that would help improve your lifestyle or your health and fitness:
- Doing calf raises while waiting in a queue
- Checking your bank balance
- Exercising a painful joint
- Using positive affirmations
- Washing your hands
- Standing up straighter
- Maintaining eye contact while talking
- Weighing yourself
- Combing your hair
- Saving small change
- Smiling more
- Emptying out your wallet
And there are many more – any of which will help you to slowly improve an area of your life without even really noticing it. So how do you make sure these behaviours become habitual?
Remembering Your Habit
The first thing to look at when it comes to creating a positive habit is why you’ve struggled in the past, and here there are numerous things to take into consideration. One thing is that for many of us picking up a new habit is difficult to remember. You start with good intentions but after day three you’ve forgotten that you were going to say please and thank you more, or that you were going to e-mail friends back right away.
One of the first and most important steps to take then is to find a way to remind yourself to perform this task. To this end one strategy that has worked very well for me is to build a new positive habit on top of an existing one. For instance I’ve been religiously sticking to a workout routine now for the last few weeks that sees me get up and go to the gym every morning at 9am, and then have a stint in the sauna. I recently decided I needed to start stretching my bad knee on a daily basis so I just made the decision to do that whenever I was in the sauna (it’s always empty). Being in the sauna reminds me to do it, and that’s generally been enough to help me stick to it.
Other methods of course to remind yourself are to leave notes and other visual reminders in useful places such as on the bedside table by your alarm clock so you see them first thing, or on your own hand (a written note or a piece of coloured string around your wrist will do the job). Then you just make the effort to perform the new habit each time you notice the trigger. Setting alarms can work well too. Finally, even if you can’t perform the habit when you remember, you certainly can run through it in your mind as though you are ‘simulating’ it, and this way you’ll be able to forge the neuronal connections and the muscle memory almost as though you were actually performing the act.
Finding the Will
Another problem people face is that they don’t have the will to go through with the habit and if it’s something like checking your bank balance you might find yourself thinking ‘I’d rather not know’ or ‘I don’t have time’ which can lead to the problem.
Solutions to this are to tell someone about your habit so that they can check in with you and make sure you’re doing it, to use cognitive restructuring to convince yourself to do it by focussing on the positive benefits that will be achieved and using positive affirmations, or to try doing it just for a few days to begin with – when there’s an end in sight these resolutions are easier to stick with.
The Good News
And how long should that goal be? Precisely 30 days, because according to a number of sources thirty days is exactly how long it takes to forge a new habit. If you can perform the task repeatedly for thirty days then you’ll find that you don’t need to remember it any more or convince yourself to do… because you’ll be doing it without even thinking.