Hack your Habits for your Health
Everyone loves a shortcut. Unfortunately, when it comes to health, there’s no such thing. Habits are the building blocks of life: the things you do every day become who you are, and who you are determines what you do every day. Here are four ways to hack into that loop to harness your habits to improve and maintain your health. Whether these are sleep habits, eating and drinking habits, exercise habits, or habits to help you manage stress in your life, these hacks can help you be conscious of the patterns that already exist and can help you see how to change the patterns that don’t serve you.
Habits are powerful because they become mostly non-conscious. Once you’ve made a decision and instituted a habit, you’ve taken the work of decision making and thinking out of the equation, and you can use that energy elsewhere. To build some awareness around the habits that may be flying under the radar in your life, make a simple list of all the things you do in a day. Then evaluate that list by categorizing each activity as healthy, not healthy, and neutral. Choose one habit to focus on changing at a time, and remember that it takes at least 28 days to form a new habit, so give yourself time.
Your “Big Why” is the fuel for your overall motivation. One trick to hacking your habits is to change how you identify yourself. Instead of being someone who is TRYING to be healthy, try telling yourself that you ARE a person that makes healthy choices. When you are faced with a choice, ask yourself, “What would a healthy person do?” Choose affirmations that support that identity, and say them, out loud, to yourself every day.
Conserving energy is a biological imperative. It’s not lazy to seek the path of least resistance—it’s a natural response. With that in mind, spend some time thinking about your environment. What ways can you set up your environment to make it easier to perform good habits, and harder to perform bad ones? A quick example: if you keep your phone on your nightstand, it is harder to put it down by bedtime, and harder to avoid losing time scrolling in the morning. But if you keep your phone charging in the kitchen overnight, the temptation has been removed from your immediate environment. Preparing your environment to support your choices can be key to your success. Lay out your workout clothes the night before. Prep your veggies for a few days and have them front and center in your fridge. Fill a couple of glasses of water for yourself, or a large water bottle. Park at the far end of the parking lot so you have to walk further to get inside. Pay attention to your social environment as well, and choose friends who support you as you make changes. As you make it easier to make healthy choices in your environment, look at ways to make other choices harder. For example, don’t keep soda, chips, and candy on hand. If you don’t buy them regularly, you don’t have them to resist when the craving hits.
Habit stacking is attaching a new habit to an old habit in order to work it into your routine. If you’d like to drink more water, try stacking drinking a whole glass of water onto something you already do. For example, “I turn off my alarm, and then I drink a whole glass of water.” Fill your glass and set it by your alarm to prime your environment for success.
Try to pair something you need to do with something you want to do. If you love to watch Netflix, or scroll through your social media, set up an exercise station and only binge watch or scroll if you’re walking on the treadmill or spinning on your cycle. Try taking a walk with your significant other, to get some exercise and have a conversation.
To key to changing your habits is to start small, and to give it time. Choose something so small it seems silly NOT to do it, and build on that success. Often adding things into your life is easier than subtracting them. Instead of telling yourself you can’t drink as much coffee, try adding a glass of water, or a mug of herbal tea, in the morning. Choose one thing to start, one thing to stop, and take action today. For more detailed information about habits that promote health, check out the e-course Lifestyle Mastery for Health at drtracikiernan.com.