New Healthy Habits: 4 Ways to Build Them

Flip Old Habits for New Ones
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Finding New Ways Of Building Healthy Habits

All human beings are innately creatures of their habits. We tend to park in the same spot, eat lunch at the same time, drive home the same way, etc. Yet it remains quite challenging for many people to adopt new, healthy habits. Why? Often it comes down to mindset and readiness for change. The importance and profound impact that our habits can have on our daily life cannot be over-stated. The blog post below outlines how 20 minutes of stretching per day can change your life.

There are several theories of health behavior that seek to explain what allows us to make new habits and what prevents us from doing so.

Each theory is slightly different, although there are some commonalities. Below are the take home points of the major health behavior theories:

  • Health belief model – posits that the perceived threat of disease or illness motivates people to take preventative health actions.
    • Example: a person has a family history of heart disease thus they exercise regularly to keep their heart healthy and avoid complications.
    • Barriers are defined (in this model) as the negative aspects of the health action.
      • An example of a barrier would be needing to dedicate time to exercise which leaves less time in the day for other activities.
    • This theory states that if a person feels there are more barriers to the health action than benefits, they will not adopt the habit.
    • Removal of barriers is the key to success.
  • Theory of reasoned action and planned behavior – focused on the person’s intention to perform a behavior rather than the behavior itself.
    • Theory of reasoned action states that a person’s intention is influenced primarily by their attitude towards the behavior and societal norms.
      • If a person believes that the outcome of adopting a new habit will be favorable, then they are more likely to perform it.
    • Theory of planned behavior states that a person’s intention is influenced primarily by how easy or difficult it is to perform the behavior i.e., is the behavior under a person’s volitional control.
    • Overall, a person’s attitude towards a healthy behavior influences their intention the most, and intention is the strongest determinant of behavior.
  • Transtheoretical/stages of change model – posits that people go through distinct stages as they initiate and maintain a new health habit.
    • Pre-contemplation – person is not convinced about importance of lifestyle change, no intention to change.
    • Contemplation – person has no set plan for when to begin new habit but would like to change, aware of pros/cons of change.
      • People can get stuck in this stage and contemplate forever.
    • Preparation – person has set a date to begin the new behavior, ”testing the waters”, unstable phase.
    • Action – person is engaged in the new habit for less than 6 months, the benefits may not be readily apparent yet so there is a risk the person will stop performing the new behavior.
    • Maintenance – person is integrating the behavior into their lifestyle, has stuck with the behavior for at least 6 months.
    • The theory states that movement through the stages is cyclical and not linear. Changing a habit can take many cycles before success.
  • Social cognitive theory – proposes that behavior change is affected by the interactions in the environment, personal factors, and attributes of the behavior itself.
    • A person is more likely to adopt a new habit if they believe that positive outcomes will follow, and they have access to resources to perform the habit.
    • The concept of self-efficacy is central to this theory which is defined as, “confidence in one’s abilities to perform a specific behavior”.
      • Self-efficacy is promoted whenever a person successfully completes a task.
  • Self-determination theory – based on the idea that humans have 3 innate psychological needs which are autonomy, competence, and relatedness to others; when a person experiences all 3 in relation to a new habit, they are more likely to internalize the regulation of their healthy behaviors.
    • Autonomy: degree to which a person feels the performance of a behavior is under their control.
    • Competence: degree to which a person feels able to achieve their goals.
    • Relatedness to others: degree to which a person feels connected to other people when performing the habit/behavior.
    • This theory posits that in order to adopt new long-lasting habits, the person needs to internalize values and skills for change thus becoming intrinsically motivated.
Flip Old Habits For New Ones

What all the above theories share is the assertion that in order for a person to adopt a new habit (and maintain it for more than 6 months) they must believe that they are capable of making a change. This is the foundation for true and long-lasting habit formation. There are also tricks to help get the ball rolling which are outlined below.

4 Tips For Building Healthy Habits

  1. Stack your habits – research has proven that the best way to adopt a new behavior or habit is to tie it to an existing one. Think of something that you do every day, such as brushing your teeth. If the new habit you want to start involves being more active you could stand on one leg while brushing your teeth to start to work on balance.
  2. Start small – sometimes breaking a habit down into small parts is the best way to begin to introduce it in your life. As an example, if your goal is to eat healthier, you could start with switching one snack a day from something not so healthy to fresh fruit or vegetables.
  3. Perform it every day – if you decide you want to adopt a new habit but it is something you want to do 3 times a week, you are more likely to find an excuse to not perform the habit; however, if you commit to do doing a small version of the habit every day it is more likely to stay around.
  4. Treat yourself – there is nothing wrong with giving yourself small treats as you continue to perform your habit regularly. Ideally, the motivation to perform the habit becomes intrinsic, meaning you do not require outside motivation or rewards. Try to reward yourself with treats that are not food, such as watching an episode of your favorite show.

If your new habit involves physical activity in some way, it is always a good idea to consult with a physical therapist first to ensure that you are moving your body in the best way possible, thus avoiding injury.

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/18/well/mind/how-to-build-healthy-habits.html

https://positivepsychology.com/how-habits-are-formed/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/social-cognitive-theory

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