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Creating and Maintaining Healthy Behavior Patterns

By Lisa Cody
April 27, 2021
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I don’t know about you, but every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is grab my phone and scroll through Instagram just to catch up on the latest cat videos. This pattern of behavior probably sounds familiar, right?

Throughout the hustle and bustle of our daily routines, we may not notice the small behavior patterns we engage in. Some of these small behavior patterns can be considered habits. Consider small behaviors like, taking the elevator, parking in the closest parking spot, or throwing dirty clothes on the floor. How many of these little habits do you engage in daily? Are they beneficial for you? Are they healthy? Can you easily stop or change these habits?

Habits are not behaviors we are born with but rather behaviors we learn over time (through a process called operant conditioning). According to the well-known Encyclopedia Britannica, a habit “is developed through reinforcement and repetition” (Encyclopedia Britannica). If we want to successfully create or adjust our existing habits, then we need to start by initiating and repeating new patterns of behavior. According to Rothman, et al. (2015) forming new habits require stability with regards to context.

If we perform specific behaviors at the same time of day every day, then we are more likely to maintain that behavior pattern as part of a routine. For example, if I take my vitamins every morning with my coffee, then I am more likely to maintain that healthy habit because seeing my coffee will cue me to take my vitamins. Whereas, if I take my vitamins at a different time every day, then it would be more challenging to remember and maintain that specific pattern of behavior.

Whether you are looking to get a few more steps in each day, quit a bad habit, or just want to change your mindset, maintaining healthy patterns of behavior can be challenging. Start by creating smaller, more obtainable goals for yourself. One characteristic of effective reinforcement is immediacy, so if we target behaviors that require less effort, we are more likely to access reinforcement for our accomplishments.

If I wanted to change my behavior pattern of watching cat videos every morning, then perhaps I would start small by looking at my weather App instead. This is a small change, but it easily obtainable and decreases my screen time. With repetition and motivation to make this change, I can avoid the unnecessary screen time first thing in the morning, which is a step in the right direction toward a healthier habit!

Simple Healthy Suggestions

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park in the farthest parking spot from the entrance
  • Drink seltzer water instead of soda (to decrease sugar intake)
  • Eat a piece of fruit for a snack instead of the cookies or chips
  • Have a glass of water between alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated (and avoid that dreaded hangover)
  • Wash the dishes immediately after dinner time (so they don’t pile up)
  • Prep your lunch the night before so you can have an extra 10 minutes to snooze in the morning
  • Floss your teeth immediately after brushing

References:

Gardner, B., & Aunger, R. (2013). Forming a flossing habit: an exploratory study of the psychological determinants of habit formation. British Journal of Health Psychology18(2), 338–353.

Nirala, Satyavrat, et al. “Habit.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2014, www.britannica.com/topic/habit-behaviour.

Rothman, A. J., Gollwitzer, P. M., Grant, A. M., Neal, D. T., Sheeran, P., & Wood, W. (2015). Hale and hearty policies: how psychological science can create and maintain healthy habits. Perspectives on Psychological Science : A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science10(6), 701–5.

Key words: Habits, Healthy, Simple, Behavior

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