Work/Life Balance: Forming Healthy Habits

Dr. Purushothaman
January 12, 2014


A habit is an action or series of actions that we perform in a subconscious manner. We do not have to consciously think about doing these things, they seem to happen on their own. Habits may be good or bad, depending on how they enhance our quality of life, or detract from it.
Have you ever driven home or to work and then had no recollection of the ride? Or have you taken the wrong exit off a freeway simply because it is the one you usually take, when in fact you had intended to keep on to another exit? Our minds become conditioned to doing things in a particular way, merely because we have done them over and over again in that exact way. This may be a good thing, as it makes much of our every day routine somewhat effortless. Imagine getting to focus intently on every little thing you did, such as washing dishes or taking out the garbage. Sounds exhausting, doesn't it?
Nevertheless, negative actions may also turn out to be habits, and that makes them very challenging to change. How numerous times have you tried to adopt an exercise program, stop smoking, lose weight, or quit unhealthy foods? It takes between 21-30 days to form a new habit. This means you need to perform your new actions consistently, day after day, for up to 30 days before your subconscious mind will start to do them instantly. Until then it takes consistent effort and concentrate.
When attempting to break a bad habit, it is generally helpful to substitute a good habit. Otherwise you'll end up feeling stressed and go back to the bad habit once more to fill the void. For instance, when stopping smoking, take up gum chewing, exercise, deep breathing, knitting, and so on. When the urge for a cigarette hits, you have other activities you can use to busy yourself. At first, the new habit may not seem like an adequate substitute (especially if nicotene withdrawal is part of the equation!), but with consistent reinforcement, your mind will start to let go of the old habit of smoking and adopt the newer habits you've replaced.
When trying to adopt a new habit, such as exercise, you may need to place visible reminders at your desk, on the refrigerator door, or the bathroom mirror. Keep in mind that your thoughts is accustomed to not thinking about exercise. It'll take some focused attention to change that.
It's important to have patience with yourself as you work on changing your habits. Keep in mind that they're habits because they are largely subconscious. As you focus your conscious mind consistently on your new actions, they will also become subconscious, just as the negative actions did. Print out this handy Habit Forming Chart and hang it up where you'll see it everyday. It can serve as an excellent reminder for your goals, as well as show your progress from day to day.
Don't beat yourself up if you have "failures" here and there as you work on forming new habits. No one is perfect, and you'll probably have days where you don't fulfill your objectives. The most challenging aspect of forming new habits is becoming aware of the automatic actions we take each day, and making a conscious decision to change them.

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