We all have habits. They are part of our daily lives. A habit is a repeated action that becomes an automatic behavior, with little to no thought. From getting out of bed and brushing our teeth to what and when we eat, these routine behaviors become part of us. 

Some habits are good, others bad. For example, flossing your teeth regularly is good for your health. But if you skip flossing, that’s a bad habit because it can have negative effects on your health. 

Whether good or bad, habits are hard to break. You can thank your brain for that. These routine behaviors are formed by a process called habituation. That means your brain gets better at performing a specific action over time. 

How good habits support wellness

While bad habits such as smoking or non-stop snacking can have a negative impact on you, positive habits can improve your health and well-being. Here’s why habits can be a good thing:

  • Efficiency. Habits help make us more efficient. That means it requires less thinking and effort for your brain to do that task. Daily activities are easier because they become automatic. That gives your brain more energy for other tasks.
  • Consistency. Developing positive habits helps promote regularity and stability and leads to a more predictable and stable routine. Regular activities also help us to develop discipline and self-control. 
  • Goal Achievement. Many habits help us achieve long-term goals. If we break down larger goals into smaller, manageable habits, they become more achievable and sustainable over time.
  • Health and Wellness. Healthy habits, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep, contribute to physical and mental well-being. These habits also lower your risk for various health issues, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes
  • Time Management: Developing habits around time management helps individuals use their time more effectively. Planning and prioritizing can lead to increased productivity and a better work-life balance.
  • Stress Reduction: Knowing what to expect and having structured routines can reduce uncertainty and stress. Habits can create a sense of control and stability in one's life.
  • Skill Development: Consistent practice is a form of habit that is crucial for skill development. Whether it's learning a musical instrument, a new language, or a professional skill, habits play a vital role in improvement.

How to start a new habit

Now that you know why they’re good for you, let’s focus on how you can develop your own good habits. Whether it’s getting started with exercise or reducing your screen time, these tips can help you create a new routine of your own. 

  • Make a decision. Think about what you want to achieve and decide what habit can help you get there. For example, if you want to improve your health, you might choose to make exercise a new habit. 
  • Be specific and realistic. For your habit to “stick” it’s important to be specific. Rather than say “I’m going to exercise more,” determine how often and how much you will exercise. You may start by setting a goal of exercising five times each week for 30 minutes. 
  • Start small. It’s important to start small and gradually increase your efforts. If you have just begun to exercise, don’t expect to run a marathon in a month. To stay motivated, be sure to make it something you can achieve. 
  • Make it part of your schedule. To commit to it, schedule time for your new habit. If you decide to exercise four times mark that time on your calendar. Having it as part of your schedule makes it part of your daily to-do list. 
  • Stick to it. Set a goal for yourself and stick to your plan. Don’t let distractions or emotions keep you from sticking to your new routine. The more you repeat a behavior, the easier it will get. Don’t give up!
  • Let others know your intentions. When you tell others about your decision, it creates a network of support. When people encourage and support you, it can make all the difference when it comes to a new goal or routine. 

How long does it take to form a habit

You may have heard it only takes as little as three days to form a new habit, but that may not be quite enough time. The fact is every habit and each person is different. The time it takes to develop that habit will vary.

A well-known study reports that it takes between 18 and 254 days to build a new habit. It also concluded that it takes 66 days on average for a habit to become automatic. 

The take-away? It takes time and effort for a habit to become natural to you. To make it a little easier, the American Heart Association offers the Healthy for Good program, with many tips and tricks to ensure your success in developing your healthy habits. You can learn more and sign up at the American Heart Association's website

How to break a bad habit

It can be hard to stop doing something that has become part of your nature. But once you recognize a bad habit, there are ways you can overcome it. 

  • Acknowledge the bad habit. The first step to change is recognizing the issue. If you know your habit is affecting you in a negative way, acknowledge it and decide to make a change for the better.
  • Identify your triggers. Typically, bad habits are triggered by something. For instance, if you smoke, your normal routine may be to light up after a meal. Knowing that food is your trigger can help you change your behavior.
  • Create a new routine to replace the old. It’s helpful to change a bad habit by replacing it with a positive one. If you have a habit of stepping outside for a cigarette after a meal, switch it up. Instead of smoking, take a walk, phone a friend, or clean the kitchen. Swapping one routine for another is helpful. 
  • Be kind to yourself. It’s hard to break a habit, and it is easy to fall back into old patterns. When that happens, remind yourself that you are trying to change and focus on getting back to your new routine. Mindfulness is a great way to keep yourself focused and motivated. 

Our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog has many other tips to help you live your best life. Be sure to sign up for our email newsletter for more great information too. 

Lifespan Blog Team

The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.