Developing good habits to keep well and do well
Are you preparing for the start of the new academic term? Perhaps you are imagining what it will be like to be at university at this time of Covid-19 when we are all having to keep social distance and be careful to protect ourselves and others. At first, the change from your current home environment to a new space where things will be very different from what you are used to. You may feel some apprehension as there will be so much information to absorb at the beginning of the term.
When beginning or resuming studies, or starting a new job, it is normal to feel a bit nervous as there is a lot of essential information to absorb and to learn new ways of doing things. To manage the transition, and adjust to a new environment, it helps to create a structure to manage your time and to maintain your energy level to be productive and keep well. A new beginning is an excellent opportunity to develop new good habits that can support your efforts to do well in your studies or at work.
Creating new habits can take a lot of time and effort. It is helpful to be clear why we want new habits so that we can maintain our efforts. For example, some want to change their diet so plan to have healthy meals to feel well and have energy. Others may want to start doing some exercise regularly to increase their fitness, etc. To implement a new habit, it requires consistent practice and perseverance (Wood, 2019).
Some simple steps to create good habits
1. Be consistent: Practice the new behaviours that you want to introduce into your daily routine so that when your brain gets used to them, it will not use energy thinking about the behaviours. For example, learning to brush our teeth when we were childre. We had to be told to brush them. Now, you probably do not even think about it. It has become a habit which does not require mental effort to do it.
2.Start very small: Think about the behaviour you want to introduce and break it down into tiny steps. For example, if you would like to start exercising start with one push up or create a writing routine, start with writing for five minutes (Fogg, 2019).
3.Create a supportive environment: Our environment influences our behaviour. If you want to start a healthy diet, but eating five or more fruit and veggies a day seems too much, you can begin with one apple a day and then gradually introduced another fruit. The idea is to add another step slowly until you have the complete behaviour that you want in this case five fruits and veggies a day.
4.Make it difficult to continue old behaviours: Think about what could prevent you from practising your new behaviour. For example, you may want to reduce the number of sugary drinks you have in a day. You may start the day determined not to put sugar in your coffee, or have soft drinks. But as soon as you open the fridge, you see a soft drink, or when you prepare yourself a cup of coffee, you notice the pot with sugar is next to it. In both cases having the items in front of you makes it more challenging to say no to them.
We often assume that we need the willpower to say no, but it is easy to give in when we are tired or feel we do not want to limit the things we want. Research indicates that we do not need to rely on our willpower to change our behaviour to create the new habits we want.
An effective strategy is to adjust our environment so that we do not need to use our willpower as much. For example, it is best not to keep soft drinks in the house, or keep the sugar pot in the cupboard, out of sight.
The idea is that if we do not have access to the items we want, or we make it more difficult to access them, it is less likely that we will engage in behaviours that go against our goals.
5.Be understanding of yourself: Often we can be very critical of ourselves when we do not meet our expectations. We are likely to be frustrated when we cannot sustain our behaviours to develop the helpful habits we want. Being kind to ourselves, like we would towards our best friend, we are more likely to persevere with our efforts to create our new good habits.
6. Manage distractions: When you notice the impulse to do something else, pause, and take a deep breath. Rather than getting irritated or frustrated because you started to check social media, or got distracted by a youtube video, observe your behaviour. Be curious, and ask yourself: “what got you interested in the distraction? Was it that you were feeling bored, or afraid that the task was too difficult?
As you understand what were the triggers that distracted you, it will help to anticipate the potential distractions so that you can prepare to eliminate these obstacles so that you can focus on your goals.
Fogg, B.J. (2019) Tiny habits. The samll changes that change everything. London: Virgin Books.
Wood, W. (2019) Good habits, bad habits. The science of making positive changes that stick. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.