Good habits provide a foundation for positive improvements in your life. However, forming new habits can be challenging. They take time and practice to form.
“A habit is something we do that becomes automatic because we did it many times under the same circumstances,” said Tiffany Milligan, a health psychologist at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE).
We practice good habits every day because of repeated, consistent action with specific context. Context is anything that helps you remember the change you want to make and increases the odds you will do it repeatedly. Once behavior is automatic, it becomes easier to maintain.
For example, when you get into a car you probably reach for a seat belt without realizing it. You most likely buckle up because of repetitive guidance and behavior. Since you may perform this action under the same conditions (while seated in a car before you start driving) many times a day, you eventually buckle your seat belt without actively thinking about it.
Use these tips to better create and maintain the habits you want to keep:
- Take control of your environment – Keep reminders of your new habit somewhere you will see every day, ideally a place where it will be relatively easy for you to accomplish that behavior.
- Keep it consistent – If possible, make sure your habit occurs under conditions that will happen on a regular basis. This will help reinforce your new habit.
- Avoid regular rewards – You may feel tempted to promise yourself a treat for following through with a new behavior. However, rewards can be counter-productive to the habit-forming process and undermine your internal motivation.
- Be patient – Better habits won’t form overnight, or even in a week. Give yourself at least two or three months to make the new behavior automatic.
- Be flexible – You may find that you don’t succeed the first time you try to develop a new habit. Rather than blaming yourself for a lack of willpower, consider changing your approach to better accommodate the intended habit. Try moving the activity to a different part of the day or re-arranging where you keep the tools or reminders necessary for that activity. Most importantly, don’t give up!