Healthy Habit Hacks
For many of us, the New Year brings with it a desire to develop new healthy habits. Investing in new routines and rhythms can go a long way in making you feel healthy and achieve more success in life. But, before you get all excited, let’s talk straight about healthy habits.
The dictionary defines habits as “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” Did you know that 45% of your daily actions are automatic (according to this Duke study in 2006)?
The good news is habits can be acquired. The bad news, it involves a lot of hard work! Habits are created when the loop stimulus- behavior- reward is repeated and neural pathways are formed inside the brain. How many times have you tried to implement a new habit, but failed? Our brain structure is so sophisticated and habit formation is anchored deep within the basal ganglia. As you keep working on your goals, here’s a look at some research based healthy habit hacks that will help you experience personal progress.
1. Display Fresh Fruit in Well Lit and Prominent Places
Researcher Brian Wansink has spent his career at some of the most prestigious academic institutions studying eating behaviors. With the help of his students and fellow professors, he’s revealed an incredible amount of practical tips that can effortlessly help to transform your eating habits and improve your overall health. One study involving school lunchrooms confirmed that placing fresh fruit on display in a nice bowl at the front of the line increased fresh fruit sales by 103% for the whole semester. Our brain constantly looks for the path of least resistance, so placing healthy foods front and center helps default decision making towards the healthy choice. I’ve tried this experiment in my own life and find, it works! By taking the extra effort to display healthy options in your kitchen or toward the front of the fridge, you're making the “better choice” easier. When you wander into the kitchen you’re much more likely to grab for the first thing you see and keep eating it until it’s gone. Why? That leads us to the second health hack...
2. Serve Yourself 20% Less
We eat with our eyes. In 2005, Brian conducted research at the Food and Brand Lab with Stanford University. He tested out the concept of fullness by serving two groups of people a literal bottomless bowl of soup and one that was fixed. Those who had soup secretly pumped into their bowls consumed 73% more soup but when asked if they were full by the waiter said things like “No, I still have half my soup left.” Those with fixed bowls were more likely to have had enough. The lesson learned is that we tend to eat beyond fullness when there’s more food on our plate. If you serve yourself 20% less and load up 20% more on vegetables and fruits you might be surprised by your satisfaction at meal time. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you self-starve your way to “health.” I’m suggesting you serve yourself a little less and leverage your internal cues to judge fullness. Use the hunger scale ranging from 1-10 and shoot for satiety at about 6. Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed and be conscious of how much you put on your plate.
3. Start Your Day With Selfcare
Healthy habits start with you. Everyday is a new opportunity to prioritize your wellbeing! It’s tempting to jump right in to work or caretaking for kids first thing, but investing in yourself at the start of each day is the gift that keeps on giving. Meditation, movement, a healthy breakfast, time to read, or doing what fills your cup allows you to show up in the best possible way. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but the most successful people know that starting the day with some intentional self care makes a huge difference when it comes to productivity and wellbeing. Setting aside this time is proven to make you more focused and effective by improving cognitive function. It’s an essential element to your success equation. As with any habit, you must stay consistent and realize the rewards that come with starting your day with self care in order to stick with it.
4. Habit Stack to Adopt New Behaviors
Another one of my favorite behavior researchers from Stanford, BJ Fogg has identified that true change happens when behavior, ability, and a prompt come together. In order to take action each of these elements must be present. He’s created a formula to illustrate this B=MAP. BJ has brilliantly outlined the path for true behavior change in his book, Tiny Habits, which I highly recommend. One of the suggestions that has stuck with me is habit stacking. If your daily habit goal is to start flossing your teeth, he suggests you try doing this right after an existing habit like brushing your teeth. You’ve probably tried before, but failed, at successfully implementing new healthy habits. Why is that? Is it possible you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. In the flossing example, BJ recommends your tiny habit goal is to floss just ONE tooth! That alone is your goal. It’s hard to add in new behaviors into our routine, but when we stack them on top of existing habits, we are more likely to succeed. There’s one final piece that is essential when it comes to changing behavior….
5. Celebrate Small Wins
We need positive reinforcement every time we make progress to solidify new behaviors. BJ recommends you find a way to celebrate your accomplishments- the tiny actions you’re working to integrate- and watch what it can do. Celebration might mean a smile, a literal pat on the back, or a checkmark on a sticky note. We are our own worst critic and too often when we try to change behavior we jump to negative self talk, rather than building ourselves up.
In summary, set yourself up for success by making the healthy choice the easy choice, jumpstarting your day with selfcare, habit stacking bite sized goals, and celebrating your progress along the way. Give these healthy habit hacks a try! I’d love to know what you think.