Sep 15, 2022 - Health

You are what you do

Illustration of a hand holding a mirror with a checkmark drawn on the glass
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Our habits — the good and the bad — define us: They dictate when we typically wake up, whom we talk to, where we get our news and information, what we eat and how we live.

  • Why it matters: Habits have the power to change our lives, but they can also be quite difficult to make — and even harder to break.

The big picture: There are a slew of ways we go wrong when trying to establish a new habit or ditch an old one.

  • "If you want to change your behavior, you can do it," says BJ Fogg, a Stanford psychologist. "But the best way to do it is not willpower, and it is not discipline."
  • "Instead, you design good habits into your life and you design bad habits out of your life."

We've culled the top tips on habits, from conversations with the experts and scientific studies.

  • This week we'll start with how to build good habits, and next week we'll dive into how to break bad ones.

1. Be specific. Too many of us get lost in abstractions, Fogg says. We vaguely proclaim we want to exercise more or eat better, but we don't set real goals, making it easy to blow it all off. Figure out exactly what exercise you want to do or how you want to eat better.

2. Start small. Social media tricks us into thinking that, with lifestyle changes, we need to go big or go home. But setting goals that are too big can quickly lead to failure, Fogg says. He believes in "tiny habits." If you want to be healthier, for example, try adding in a short walk or skipping soda with dinner to start.

3. Redesign your life. One of the best ways to start doing something is to make it exceptionally easy to do. If you want to begin your day with a workout, try putting your clothes and shoes right next to your bed.

  • You can even fold new habits into existing ones, the New York Times notes. If you want to practice mindfulness, meditate while you're doing something you already do, like waiting for your morning coffee to brew.

4. Do it daily. In one study, people who repeated something daily or almost daily turned that thing into a habit in a median of 66 days. It doesn't really matter how much you do every day as long as you do it every day, Fogg notes.

5. Celebrate! It's the feeling of success you get from accomplishing something that fuels you and motivates you to turn that thing into a habit.

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