How to Create a New Habit

· 721 words · about 4 minutes

Part 3 of 3 in the series, How Can Short Relaxation Exercises Help You?

Making lifestyle changes can be a challenge, but creating new habits (or modifying personal behaviours) can be the most effective way of reducing the risk of disease and promoting health, even more so than taking medication, according to the National Institutes of Health: Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. This happens through a combination of conscious thought and automatic behaviour.

How do you successfully make changes to your lifestyle? By creating new habits.

You’ve already started shifting your conscious thoughts by reading this blog and seeking ways to relax. Now we’ll focus on creating a new habit: including relaxation in your daily routine.

The key is to find a time when you don’t feel rushed and that you can realistically stick to on most days. Consistency creates new habits, so eventually relaxing will become automatic.

Here are a few ways you can approach this:

Pairing: It can be helpful to “pair” relaxation with an activity you do everyday, in order to create and then reinforce the habit. Here are some examples:

  • Waking up and doing a relaxation exercise in bed.
  • Taking 5 minutes after lunch at work before going back to your office / appointments.
  • Before dinner, take 5 minutes of solo time in a quiet place prior to sitting down at the table (or do some relaxation with others in your household).
  • After brushing your teeth in the evening, take 5 minutes to do a relaxation exercise.

Time of day: Some people find it helpful to simply choose the same time everyday to practice relaxation. Perhaps adding a reminder to your phone that alerts you at this time will help you remember.

Set a goal: If you’re more a goal-oriented person, set yourself a specific relaxation goal that includes a “paired” activity (as above) and/or a time of day. For example: I will do a relaxation exercise everyday in the car when I arrive home from work, before I go inside. Or while on the bus on the way home from work.

Once you have decided on what to “pair” your relaxation time with or chosen a time of day to start, stick to it every day. The repetition paired with the context you choose will help create a new habit by cueing you to turn on the relaxation download when you’re in that situation.

Creating a new habit takes time (one study says this varies from 18 to 254 days!), so be patient. This same study also found that missing a day here and there did not have a lasting effect, so don’t be worried if you occasionally have to change your routine – just try to fit it in again the next day.

TIP: Some research has shown (Lally et al., 2010) that natural changes in life situations – moving, starting a new school, changing jobs, having a child, getting a new health diagnosis – can be a prime time for implementing new habits and breaking old ones. The context change seems to disrupt cues to habitual action, therefore allowing old habits to be dropped and new habits to be created more easily. Take advantage of these times to introduce new habits!


Featured relaxation exercise:



References

Arlinghaus, K. R. and Johnston, C. A. (2019) The importance of Creating Habits and Routine, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Mar-Apr, vol 13 (2), pp. 142–144.

Fritz, H. And Cutchin, M. P. (2016) Integrating the Science of Habit: Opportunities for Occupational Therapy. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, vol. 36 (2), pp. 92–98.

Gardner, B., Lally, P. And Wardle, J. (2012) Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice, December, vol. 62 (605), pp. 664–666.

Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W. And Wardle, J. (2010) How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 40, pp. 998–1009.

National Institutes of Health: Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (2016) Strategic Plan 1017-2021: Healthier Lives through Behavioral and Social Sciences. NIH: Bethesda, MD (USA).

Neal, D. T., Wood, W., Labrecque, J. S. And Lally, P. (2012) How do habits guide behavior? Perceived and actual triggers of habits in daily life. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 48, pp. 492–498.