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The Power of Habits

Why do New Year’s resolutions always collapse after January?

How is it impossible not to snack while watching TV?

Do you wish exercising was as automatic as brushing your teeth?

The key is habit formation. Over time, habits become our routines and yet so many of our habits healthy ones or not were formed early in our lives when we had little to say about them. The good news is that you can rewrite these with a little effort.

What you repeatedly do each day ultimately forms the things you believe and the personality that you portray.  What if you want to improve or form new habits? How can you go about changing the patterns?

The Science of How Habits Work

Your mind is continuously analyzing your internal and external environment for hints/cues of where rewards are located. We spend most of our time learning what predicts rewards like money, power or status, praise, approval or satisfaction, friendship and/or love.  Because the cue is the first indication that we are close to a reward, it naturally leads to desire.

Desire is the motivational force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation or desire we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers.  

Whether a response/action occurs depends on how motivated you are as well.   If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then you will not do it. Your response also depends on your ability or capacity to do it.  

Rewards are the end goal of every habit – they provide benefits on their own. Your brain is a reward detector. As you go about your life, your senses are continuously monitoring which actions satisfy your desires and deliver pleasure. Feelings of pleasure and disappointment are part of the feedback mechanism that helps your brain distinguish useful actions from useless ones. Rewards close the feedback loop and complete the habit cycle.

All behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem is that you are experiencing pain and you want to relieve it.

Good Wellness Habits

If you want to be happier…

  1. Surround yourself with positive people.
  2. Laugh – even if you have to force it. The mere action of laughing releases endorphins. 
  3. Move your body (walk, exercise) for 20 minutes or longer

If you want to manage stress more effectively…

  1. Take two minutes to just breathe deeply. Focus on your breaths. 
  2. Stretch different parts of your body for ten minutes.
  3. Detach from the source of stress (excuse yourself from a meeting, take a break from a project, remove yourself from an argument) for a five-minute break.

If you want to shed unwanted pounds…

  1. Reduce your sugar intake.
  2. Eat six small, healthful meals a day to keep satisfied and on track.
  3. Eat that first meal within 30 minutes of waking up to jumpstart your metabolism.  
  4. Schedule exercise like you would appointments aim for five per week.
  5. Move your body for at least ten minutes first thing in the morning to increase your metabolism.
  6. Drink a glass of water in the morning and before each meal. 
  7. Eat mostly vegetables using fat, grains, starchy/sugary foods as small sides.

Feel Better – Function Better with Dr. Phil…