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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How to develop helpful habits

Saturday, February 20, 2016
Image credit FidlerJan via MorguefileDo you brush your teeth every day? Probably you do. How do you remember to pick up your toothbrush and the toothpaste? Now, if I asked you this in person you might start asking yourself questions too. Like “why am I talking to this crazy woman?” and “do I have bad breath?” But we’re not talking in person, and I can’t tell whether you have bad breath or not at this distance, so you can relax and read on.

The reason I’m asking you is all to do with healthy habits and what this has to do with improving your health.
First, let’s look at how you developed the habitual practice of daily toothbrush use. Your parents probably helped you start, providing a tiny soft toothbrush and reminding you, every day, for years on end, to brush your teeth before bed. They knew that without persistent prompting what happens between your gums wouldn’t be on your mind from one dentist visit to another. So they took on the thankless task of helping you remember.

The toothpaste manufacturers played a part in this too, through creating a reward. After brushing your teeth you get to experience a clean fresh feeling. After a few years you didn’t have to be reminded to look after your pearly whites, it was an ingrained habit with ongoing reward.

It’s hard to establish new habits; life can get in the way, events happen, and you forget, just like you did as a toddler. You can use the same technique your parents used to develop new health habits you want, like exercising daily: Remind yourself every day, and provide a reward. Expect to have to keep this up for months to years before it becomes an unconscious habit. Please don’t ask your parents to do this for you, they’ve done their work just helping you keep your teeth. 

Mobile phones are a fabulous tool for developing a new health habit like exercise. You can set up a recurring appointment reminder. Or there are plenty of apps that can measure how many steps you take, what distance you covered, and how you’re progressing overall. The apps will reward you with achievement badges, and even help you share your progress on social media if you want to. 

Having the app doesn’t spare you from actually doing the work, but it does make it much easier to keep practising the habit until it’s just part of your life. Like brushing your teeth.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'why its so hard to change your health habits'

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