Positive habits can have a massive impact on your wellbeing… if you get them right! In this article I tell you excatly how to set up positive habits that will last and how to make them last.
All the scientific facts shared in this article come from Dr Alex Korb‘s book, “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time”. This book has revolutioned my understanding of mental health and I highly recommend it.
The benefits of developing positive habits for your wellbeing
Developing positive habits can be a powerful boost your wellbeing because once you set those habits in motion, you can start to change your life without any additional effort. Good habits impact your serotonin and dopamine levels, which increase your sense of wellbeing as explained in more detail below.
So let’s get you started.
How we create positive habits
Habits are created by repetition. Some habits require less repetition than others because some actions release more dopamine than others. When you first try to start a new habit it requires efforts, which is particularly difficult when you are feeling a little down. But it is worth powering through it as the more you do the action the more dopamine will be released and the easier the action will become.
Self-affirmation can help you change your habits
Studies show that thinking about your positive qualities makes it easier to change your habits. That’s because happy memories boost serotonin and so does positive self-reflection.
So here is how to use self-affirmation. Before thinking about which habit you’d like to change, answer this list of question with a yes or no. If you answer yes, elaborate.
- Have you ever forgiven another person when he or she has hurt you?
- Have you ever been considerate of another person’s feelings?
- Have you ever given money or items to someone less fortunate than you?
- Have you ever tried to cheer someone up who had had a bad day?
- Have you ever encouraged a friend to pursue a goal?
Once you have done the exercise it is time to choose a habit you would like to change.
Reduce your stress to give a chance to your new positive habits
Stress biases the brain toward old habits over intentional actions, which is why it is so hard to change habits that we have put in place to cope with stress (such as smoking). And those coping habits are feeding your stress and your depression. So the best way forward is to reduce your stress level first rather than attacking the coping habit with full force.
You can reduce your stress levels through:
- Exercising – see You cannot be depressed while you exercise
- Decision making
- Improving your sleep – see Why getting a good night’s sleep can help you fight depression
- Gratitude – see The Gratitude Challenge (or the recipe for happiness)
- Social interactions
Accept that you won’t be perfect
Habits are created by repetition, i.e. by practice. And when you practice you make mistakes, it’s the way it goes. How many times did you fall when you were learning how to walk? So just accept it and don’t beat yourself up about it. As always, just remember to be kind to yourself.
Increase your serotonin level
The higher your levels of serotonin, the more likely it is that you will stick to your good habits. The following actions help produce serotonin so go for it:
- Get some sun
- Get a massage
- Remember happy memories
Activate your prefrontal cortex
When you are feeling low the prefrontal cortex does not work as it should, which is why it is so hard to create the good habits that would reverse the cycle. You can help redress this by taking the following actions:
- Keeping long-term goals in mind
- Having some self-awareness, i.e. become more aware of your emotions, practice mindfulness. For more on that see How meditation can help relieve your depression
Change your environment
Once habits are stored in your brain, they are triggered by a thought, a feeling or something in your environment. So to change a habit, you should try to change your environment. Example: if you want to stop eating cookies, don’t walk through the cookies aisle in the supermarket.
If you are struggling to do what you need to do and it starts to increase your anxiety, do something. What I mean is do something that is on your to do list even if it isn’t the most urgent task. It still needs to get done and it will keep you moving forward. Once you start being productive, dopamine is released and you will have more energy and motivation to do tackle the thing you really should be doing.
Positive Habits And Wellbeing – key take-aways
- boost your confidence before choosing which positive habit you want to put in place
- reduce your stress level so that you won’t be tempted to go back to the old bad habit
- accept that you won’t be perfect
- boost your serotonin level to help you stay on track with your new positive habit
- change your environment to make your new habit as easy as possible to achieve
- use productive procrastination to help yourself get started
Try these simple hacks and let me know how you get on
Do you have any other trick to help with developing positive habits? What has worked well for you? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comments.
And remember, happiness is a choice, and you are in charge!