Making the right choices for health and well-being can be challenging. Although we know what is good for us and how we do it, we may not act on it, or if we do, we may, in due course, slide back to familiar ways. Human behavior is influenced by many factors, 2 of which are of particular relevance when it comes to wellness: self-regulation and habits.
Self-regulation is central to effective human functioning. It is “our ability to direct our behavior and control our impulses so that we meet certain standards, achieve certain goals, or reach certain ideals”. It allows us to act in our short- and long-term best interests, consistent with our deepest values. There’s just one limitation: self-regulation requires mental energy, and the brain is always looking for ways to conserve energy.
Habits, in contrast, require very little energy and in fact, are key to wellness. With about 40% of our everyday behavior repeated in the form of habits, they shape our existence, and our future. For better or worse, habits influence health, well-being, and quality of life. If you change your habits for the better, you change your life for the better.
A habit is “a behavior that is recurrent and studies indicate that once formed, habits become encoded in brain structures and can never truly be eradicated — only replaced with stronger habits. That’s why they are so difficult to change. It’s not just a matter of will-power; it’s a matter of rewiring the brain. To change a habit, you need to create new routines: Keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.
Inserting new routines is not easy. Despite knowing what’s good for us, habits tend to keep us doing what we always do. However, we can maximize the probabilities for success with 2 essentials: self-awareness and strategies.
Change becomes much more achievable if you pay attention to who you are and insert routines that take advantage of your strengths, tendencies, and aptitudes. With self-awareness, you can cultivate the habits that work for you. The odds of success to improve your fitness won’t increase if, for example, you decide to rise an hour earlier to exercise each day when you happen to be a “night owl” rather than “morning lark.”
Change is more achievable if you choose strategies that enhance your chance for success. Such strategies include monitoring; scheduling; investing in systems of accountability; abstaining; increasing or decreasing convenience; planning safeguards. Most successful habit change requires the coordination of multiple strategies to establish a single new behavior, and new habits, on average, take 66 days to form, so the more strategies used, the better.
Sometimes change takes a long time. It requires repeated experiments and failures. The attempts are unquestionably worthwhile and one success often leads to another.
Wellness is a dynamic, ever-changing, fluctuating process. It is a lifestyle, a personalized approach to living life in a way that allows you to become the best kind of person that your potentials, circumstances, and fate will allow. Don’t worry about getting it perfect; just get it going and become the best kind of person you can be.