How to Create Health Habits | Great Health Guide
How to Create Health Habits

How to Create Health Habits

Written by Dr Suzanne Henwood Director and lead coach/trainer of mBraining4Success

Are there any habits that you would like to break? Are there any new habits you would like to adopt?

A habit is a pattern of behaviour. It is a triggered response to an environmental or contextual cue. An example might be, turning on the radio when you get into your car, or reaching out for a biscuit when you make a cup of tea.

Habits create a neural pathway, in the basal ganglia of the mid brain, which becomes the easiest (least energy requiring behaviour) to get the action done, eliminating the thinking through of options in the prefrontal cortex. What is interesting is that when the habit has been actioned, dopamine gets released, which reinforces the pathway, creating a self-fulfilling spiral of activity over time. The response becomes ‘automatic’.

To create a new habit, we have to override the old neural pathway and create a new one – that takes awareness, intention, energy and repeated practice. Ideally the new habit offers more benefit than the old one and is more desirable to us. Maybe, for example, you have had a health scare and the desire to return to excellent health becomes a new driver for habit change that maximises action (initially by will power) until the new habit is in place.

Some healthy habits you might like to invest in include:

  • healthy dietary changes

  • regular safe exercise

  • flossing your teeth daily

  • closer connection and relationship with partners, children and family

  • finding ‘me time’ to rest and restore energy and focus

  • regulating your nervous system.

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How long does it take to create a habit? It is different for each individual, and is probably impacted by:

  • the strength of the desire or need

  • the values associated with the change (whether it is important to you)

  • whether or not you have others supporting you.

Reported statistics suggest that a habit takes anything from 18 to 254 days (with the average quoted as 66 days) to create. I would argue it is not just about the number of days, it is also about the number of times you fire up the neural pathway, and whether or not you complete the process. The old saying of ‘Practice makes Perfect’ may be better worded as ‘Practice makes Permanent’. It requires attention to detail and reflecting on effectiveness to create a new neural pathway which actually does what you want it to do.

What are the steps to creating a new healthy habit?

  1. Be aware of your habit currently and why it is no longer serving you.

  2. Reflect on any gains from having that habit and build in a way to ensure those gains are met differently.

  3. Identify a new habit that you would prefer and break it into bite sized chunks, then revising it as the habit develops, building up to the total action over time.

  4. Identify any possible obstacles and prepare for finding a way to get around them.

  5. Develop the new practice to install a successful habit.

  6. Commit to repeated practice (a routine scheduled into your day) until the habit is established. This might involve:

    • Make yourself accountable to someone else, who can motivate you when you bump into resistance or apathy.

    • Set alarms and place visible reminders around your environment; reward yourself for successes. The first few days are especially important for the new routine.

Other considerations are the possibility of creating change while on vacation, or in a new environment, when the previously triggering contexts and cues are not present. Set up a reward for successful completion of your action plan. If the change is not something you deeply desire, rather it is something you feel obligated to change, consider ‘bundling’ it together with something you do easily. For example, if you love having coffee and you want to walk more, build in a walk to a café so that you achieve both, one becoming the reward for the other.

Finally, be compassionate to yourself. You may have days when you don’t stick to your new plan. You may fall back into an old habit (without even realising). That is OK. Start with being aware and work your way back through the list 1-6 above, editing anything that needs revision. And build in extra support if this happens more than twice. Stay focused on reaching the end goal, with the new habit being automatic and effortless.

Enjoy creating the habits that will keep you healthy.

Author of this article:
Dr Suzanne Henwood is the Director and Lead Coach and Trainer of mBraining4Success. She is a Master Trainer and Master Coach of mBIT (Multiple Brain Integration Techniques), An NLP Trainer and Master Practitioner and holds qualifications in Havening, Existential Coaching, Heart Math, Map of Meaning, Refocusing Counselling, ACT, IDT, Polyvagal Informed Therapy, Solution Focused Brief Therapy and Time Line Therapy. She can be contacted via her website.

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