You can probably think of a daily habit you perform—perhaps it’s checking Twitter first thing every morning or taking a shower before bed. Whatever the habit may be, it is typically automatic, meaning you don’t give it much thought, if any at all.
Luckily, as a human, you have the ability to choose which habits you’d like to adopt and which ones no longer serve you.
You are also capable of committing to healthier habits, even though it may require a great deal of patience. According to research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it can take, on average, 66 days for a habit to become automatic. In the study, it took participants between 18 and 254 days, depending on a variety of factors such as personality and the behavior itself, to create a new habit.
According to a 2014 article published in Society for Personality and Social Psychology, studies show that 40 percent of people’s daily activities are carried out in almost the same situations every day. In other words, almost half of your day is spent performing the same actions as the day before.
Since these habitual responses make up a large portion of your day, why not develop habits that are healthy and beneficial? And no better time to do this than the beginning of a brand new calendar year.
Below are five healthy habits to adopt in the New Year:
1. Set a Fitness Goal
A popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight or get fit, which explains why gyms become overly crowded in January. But when you aren’t specific enough in your goal setting, you’re less likely to stick with it.
The solution? Set a specific fitness goal, including the steps necessary to achieve it. Whether it is to lose 10 pounds in six months or run a marathon by June, write down your specific goal along with a detailed plan that will help you meet it. Be as specific as possible.
Once you meet your first goal, set a second one, and so on. Meeting fitness goals can be immensely satisfying—use this as motivation to stay committed to them.
2. Add Some Color to Your Plate
Another popular New Year’s resolution is to eat healthy, which again, sounds pretty general and doesn’t provide specific direction. Having unrealistic expectations and setting rigid goals, such as replacing all junk food with vegetables for a year, can backfire as well.
Rather than adopting a restricted diet that can be difficult to maintain or depriving yourself entirely, begin by incorporating more of the good stuff into your diet. Often when you make healthier food choices (e.g., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and organic meats) and note how much better you feel, you are usually less inclined to indulge in processed food, alcohol, and other food that can be damaging to your body.
A great way to stick to a healthier food plan is to add color variety to each meal. Add brightly colored fruits and vegetables to your plate at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can also add them to your list of midday snacks. Eventually, you can add in healthier proteins and whole grains, too.
3. Make Time for Peace and Quiet
Daily life can be busy and chaotic. It can feel as though there just aren’t enough hours in the day to complete everything. With this mindset, downtime is viewed more as a luxury than a necessity.
But the truth is, when you give yourself permission to decompress and rejuvenate, you reenergize your body and mind, allowing both to work more efficiently. So, while relaxing activities may feel unproductive at the time, by performing them, you are actually enhancing productivity in the long-run.
Morning is a great time to relax as it can set the tone for the rest of the day. However, some people may prefer evenings. Choose a time that works best with your schedule when you can be alone and free of any distractions. Start small, perhaps 10 minutes a day of quiet time, and gradually work your way up to at least 20 minutes. Preferred amount of downtime will vary from person to person.
Here are some ideas of relaxing activities:
- Take a warm bath
- Listen to calming music
- Take a nature walk
- Practice yoga
- Focus on breath
4. Breathe Mindfully
Breathing is perhaps your most automatic habit. But rarely do you actually pay attention to the air entering and exiting your lungs. As research shows, being mindful of your breathing process has numerous health benefits, such as:
- Reduced stress
- Slower heartbeat
- Stabilized (or lowered) blood pressure
Mindful breathing can be practiced while performing a variety of relaxation exercises, including:
- Tai Chi
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Mindfulness meditation
- Guided meditation
- Focused breathing with a mantra
Try out a variety of exercises to find out which one works best for you. To get into a steady routine, practice once or twice a day, preferably around the same time every day, for at least 10 to 20 minutes.
If you are just starting out or looking for a simple way to practice mindful breathing, follow these steps:
- Sit comfortably or lie down.
- Close your eyes (if preferred) and place one hand on your belly.
- Take a long deep breath through your nose, feeling your belly rise.
- Then, breathe out slowly through the mouth, all while focusing your attention on the breath.
Tip: You may want to incorporate this practice into your daily downtime routine.
5. Practice Gratitude
According to research, a strong correlation exists between gratitude and happiness. Studies show people who practice gratitude report feeling more optimistic and generally better about their lives. Being grateful can also lead to better sleep, healthier relationships, and stronger immune systems.
Gratitude can be practiced in a number of ways:
- Start a gratitude journal: Write down three things you are grateful for before you go to sleep or first thing after you wake up.
- Keep a gratitude jar: Use small pieces of paper to record what you’re grateful for and place them in a jar. Empty the jar once it’s full and review everything in full. This is an especially great exercise for parents to do with children.
- Write a letter of gratitude to someone: Express your gratitude to a loved one. Even if you don’t send it, you’ll benefit from reflecting on all you have to be thankful for.
- Give back: In addition to being grateful for what you have, you can also be grateful for what you have to give. Use your talents and skills to help someone out, whether it’s a family member, friend, or complete stranger.
- Watch your language: People who are grateful don’t try to hide it; they talk about their blessings and good fortune. Instead of dwelling on what they lack, they speak in terms of abundance.
Remember to be patient and gentle with yourself as you incorporate these healthy habits into your daily routine. Forgetting to perform a habit every now and then will not undo the habit formation process. Don’t beat yourself up for “failing” once or twice; instead, have a strategy in place for when a mess up occurs and move forward. You deserve a year filled with happy, healthy experiences.
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