Habits are those things that we do over and over and are often done without thought (unconsciously), they are patterns of behavior that we acquire through frequent repetition, like brushing our teeth in the morning.
The habits that we develop over time can be healthy or unhealthy, and they can be especially hard to give up.
Research shows that changing an unhealthy behavior into a new healthy behavior is accomplished in three phases over time. In the initiation phase the new behavior, and the context in which it will be accomplished, is decided upon. The learning phase occurs as the new behavior is “practiced” in the chosen context. For example, replacing the unhealthy habit of grabbing a doughnut for breakfast on the way to work can be replaced with a healthier habit of choosing to eat a pre-made hardboiled egg or oatmeal raisin energy bite from the refrigerator instead. Finally, the stability phase occurs when the new habit has been formed and continues over time with little thought or effort (1).
Healthy habits, like eating well, moving our bodies each day, and avoiding harmful substances like cigarettes can lead to achieving an ideal body weight, improved mood, disease prevention, and more energy to accomplish daily tasks as they improve our overall health and wellbeing.
To begin making the change from an unhealthy habit to a healthier one, first, take some time to think over why you want to change an existing habit and consider the benefits of making that change. Next, enlist some support – habit change can be easier when done with others. Prepare for and learn from“slip-ups” – they will most likely occur. And, be sure to give enough time for the new habit to form, research shows about 2-3 months (1).
You can read the 2012 study on healthy habit formation here.