Healthy Habits: A Gradual Process With Lasting Rewards

Nothing happens overnight, but slowly developing habits can have lasting effects.

Forming a new habit takes time. This doesn’t mean you should research how long it takes or rely on some scientific study. Though that might help in certain situations, it could dissuade you from trying to form a new habit because of unrealistic expectations.

The amount of time it takes to form a new habit depends on individual determination. Individual determination comes from whatever motivates you to start a new habit. Why is it that you want to start [insert new habit]?

Once you decide, you should set realistic (healthy) goals. Starting a new habit is a gradual process. Setting increments allows you to gage improvement and decrease any pressure to change overnight. It also helps to embed your new habit into your life by connecting it to something you already do.

I currently run at least four days a week. When I started this new habit, I didn’t come out the gate running four days a week. Instead, I ran once while on my weekly walk since walking is a hobby I’ve always enjoyed. Each week, I increased the duration or intensity of my run. What started as one short run per week gradually increased to four substantial runs per week. The way I have made running a part of my life has worked for me. For others, it might take a shorter or longer time to feel that a new behavior is part of a weekly routine.

Another way to increase your chances of success is to tell people that you’re forming a new habit. Hopefully they will support you and help you with accountability. If you want to eat healthier, then you could tell your friends and family that you are going to eat a healthy breakfast five times a week. That way, if you eat an egg, bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich, you know you’ll get funny looks – that might strengthen your resolve. They may even be ultra-supportive and decide not to eat pancakes, sausages and such when you’re around.

Visualization is another component to forming a new habit. Even if your new habit is something physical, your mental state will play a huge role in your success. Visualize yourself enjoying your new habit and how accomplished you’ll feel.

Reward yourself for each accomplishment you have on your journey. Rewards reinforce favorable behavior and help you look forward to engaging in a certain habit. If waking up early is a new habit you’ve decided on, reward yourself at each milestone. Maybe it’s the first time you woke up at 6:00 A.M. for an entire week, then you can reward yourself on Friday evening with something else you enjoy. You’ll become more persistent with greater resolve to have your new habit become automatic- a natural part of your routine. Once you do it every day, or as frequently as possible, you’ll graduate past the point of needing reinforcement and it will no longer be a “new habit” – it will be a part of you.

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