This month, Dr. Suhas answers a question around how men can create and maintain healthy habits.
How Do Men Cultivate Good Health Habits?
“Habit is a cable; we weave a thread each day, and at last we cannot break it.”—Horace Mann
Habits can be good and bad, and much depends upon how quickly you realize and differentiate the good from the bad. Your habits will decide what you achieve or fail to achieve in your life. There are two Sanskrit words that effectively communicate good and bad habits: Shreyas and Preyas.
Sheryas is something that may not initially be liked by the sense organs, but it is good for you. Preyas, on the other hand, is liked by the senses and is not good for you. The journey of enlightenment is to start liking things that are good for you; in other words, cultivate good habits by boosting your will power and self-discipline. There is no better way to exercise self-control than meditation. The simple prescription is to:
- Witness with self-awareness
- Find good role models who will motivate you
The Habit Loop
Habits, by definition, are behaviors that you have picked up over time that have become an integral and inseparable part of your daily routine. Some habits add value to your emotional and physical health while others distract. Cultivating good habits has become even more important in this post-coronavirus world where routine behaviors act as a way to maintain a sense of consistency for yourself.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”—Aristotle
The Habit Loop is an interesting concept discussed in author Charles Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habits.” Every habit has a cue, routine, and reward. These three factors put together create habits.
Habit-making behaviors are traced to the basal ganglia in the brain. This is the part of the brain that is instrumental in generating emotions and memories and recognizing patterns. The prefrontal cortex makes decisions. However, once a behavior becomes automatic, the prefrontal cortex goes into an auto-pilot mode. This is similar to the “zone” that athletes experience. A moment of being where there are no conscious decisions being made, but rather a reaction from years of muscle memory. You must have noticed that you don’t actually have to think about brushing your teeth after you wake up! Similarly, you don’t have to actively think while engaging in your habitual behaviors. This is why they can be just as harmful as they can be helpful.
For example, if you want to develop a habit of getting in about 20 minutes of workout in your morning routine, first pick an already existing habit such as waking up in the morning as your cue. Your reward could be a post-workout healthy snack, a smoothie, or the rush of endorphins you feel when you go for a run. If your brain anticipates a reward, it is easier to condition it to participate in a new routine. This is the opposite of negative habits, such as staying up late or drinking alcohol. Your body is no longer making an active decision but rather reacting due to a stimulus that is simply receiving signals.
How to Integrate a New Habit into Your Life
The best ingredients for forming a new habit are consistency and self-awareness. Research shows that it takes about 21-66 days to form a habit. Many of us falter, give in to distractions, and end up losing momentum within the first few weeks of developing a new habit. Consistently staying true to your commitment to making a change and becoming self-aware of the kinds of hurdles you might face can go a long way in helping you form a new habit. Here are some tips.
1. Start by identifying the new habit that you want to incorporate in your life and then list the reasons why you want that particular change. Perhaps you are trying to get into the habit of sleeping early because you want to be sharper and more present during your early morning meetings.
2. Visualize or write down the reward that you intend to achieve by sleeping early.
3. Remove distractions such as checking your Instagram feed and giving in to the temptation of streaming just one more episode before going to bed. Remind yourself that changing your sleep pattern is an investment in your health and career!
4. Make sure that you actively set time aside for the particular habit that you’re trying to cultivate. If you don’t make time for it, building a completely new habit into your daily routine turns into a herculean task.
5. Meditate. Meditation cultivates self-awareness that keeps you away from mindless, ignorant habits. All the ancient traditions have used fasting, meditation, prayer, mirroring, and group activities to enforce good habits and positive lifestyles.
Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar is a world-renowned Ayurvedic physician and medical astrologer from a family of traditional Vedic healers in India. He holds a B.A. in Ayurvedic medicine and completed a three-year residency as an M.D. (doctorate in Ayurvedic internal medicine) at the prestigious Pune University in India.
Dr. Suhas is a compassionate healer and expert clinician who directs the Ayurvedic Healing and Integrative Wellness Clinic in Northern California. As a sought-after speaker and lecturer, he also travels throughout the world teaching courses in Ayurveda, training doctors, and providing Ayurvedic consultations for thousands of patients.