On our journey towards a healthier body and mind, we’ve realised that habits play a huge role. Habits are patterns of behaviour that are often performed automatically, enabling us to carry out essential tasks such as getting ready for work in the morning without having to think about them. They also include habits that are good for our health such as exercising and eating well, and bad habits such as procrastination, nail-biting and being late. Good, bad or ugly, our habits build up the experiences that define the quality of our lives so it’s worth taking a closer look at them, to make sure we are on the right path.
Anything that we do requires our brain’s input and this consumes a lot of our energy. But the brain has a clever skill. For frequently carried out actions (i.e. habits), our brain builds bigger neural pathways so less energy is needed to carry out the action, to the point where it becomes unconscious (think about how hard it was to learn to drive a car, and how easy it becomes so you don’t even have to think about it). Building new habits takes time as we build up the neural pathways, but as it is repeated it eventually becomes easier. Unfortunately the same is true for bad habits. A frequently repeated bad habit also has strong neural pathways, so it is best to nip bad habits in the bud!
Another factor that comes into play when developing a new habit is the feedback loop, where we feel the benefits of the good habit which then motivates us further to make it a standard part of our lifestyle. Exercise is a good example since people new to exercising are sometimes a bit resistant and it’s not until they feel the benefits of living with increased energy, strength and endorphins that they are motivated to exercise more.
How can we build new healthy habits?
It can take time – and willpower – to build a new habit, but luckily we’ve found a great trick to help you get started. Rather than building new neural pathways for good habits, you can simply hijack the neural pathways of a bad habit. What a boon!
For example, if you have a habit of sleepily hitting the snooze button when the alarm goes off, hijack this and sit up in bed instead and use your phone or a notepad to list two things that you are grateful for. Or two things that you are excited about for that day. We’ve been doing this at Together, and it has helped us to develop daily gratitude and start the day in a positive state of mind. It’s a practice that we’d recommend at any point in the day, whether or not you want to hijack an existing habit.
While we’re on the subject of sleep, Lee swears by another habit which can make a big difference to your quality of sleep. With so many technology distractions, it’s all too easy to fall into the habit of scrolling endlessly through apps when we should be hitting the pillow. Lee’s tip is to turn off his phone at 9.00pm every night to aid sleep. Using iPhones ‘Screen Time’ and Androids ‘Digital Wellbeing’ features are a great way to help you do this and generally use your phone less.
Technology can be the root of all kinds of bad habits, but it can also help us create new healthy habits if we use it wisely. There are many apps designed for this exact challenge. Many will nudge you to remind you to make the change and show how you are progressing. Otherwise simple reminder and calendar apps can work wonders to keep us on track to developing a lasting habit and lifestyle change. Daniel did a load of research and got us all using Streaks app which entices you to keep up the habit by extending your streak each time you complete it.
One of the ways that Daniel uses the app is to prep his food in the evening for the next day to keep his diet and eating on track. And Lee has been using it to remind himself to message or speak to at least one friend everyday.
If like Daniel, tech is your thing, you might be interested in the smart water bottle he uses to remind himself to drink water. The H2OPal is a water bottle that sends alerts to your smart phone and tracks your daily intake. Now he is in the habit of drinking water throughout the day whether he has the reminder or not.
Another good strategy that we’ve implemented at Together HQ is a ‘buddy system’. It’s much easier to start a new habit if you’re doing it with other people. We do a gym workout or yoga session every lunchtime together and not only is it great for our health but seems to give us more energy in the afternoon. We’re also taking 15-20 minutes out (no matter how busy we are!) to meditate in the afternoon. It has been great not only to motivate each other in the office but also to share our experiences (just the other day we got deep into a conversation about meditation!). With Daniel’s tech hat on he set up an alarm system that plays through the office Sonos system to remind us to do these things plus when it’s time for breakfast (we are intermittent fasters and eat breakfast at 11am each day).
Another thing that can help is a piece of old wisdom that the brothers Lee, Phil and Daniel have been practicing for years: ‘Begin with the end in mind’ from one of their favourite books ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. Focusing on what the outcome of those healthy habits will be and how your life will be better, makes it easier to instil new habits.
Have you got your own tips for building new healthy habits? What are your experiences? Let us know via social: