Brain Function

The Secret of Building Healthy Habits That Can Transform Your Health

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The Secret of Building Healthy Habits That Can Transform Your Health about Brain Vitality Plus

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”–Aristotle

Our editorial team can’t stop sharing science-backed stories encouraging folks to establish healthy habits.

Why do we keep banging this drum?

For starters, habits such as following a well-balanced diet, getting daily exercise, stress management, and prioritizing sleep have all been found to decrease your risk of age-related disease and increase your chances of living a long, healthy life.

Another case-in-point is our article on Seven Easy Habits to Stop Dementia. We reported on a large study that found certain lifestyle habits could help slash people’s dementia risk nearly in half! Impressive, eh?

But here’s the rub… establishing good habits and breaking bad habits can be challenging for all of us! That’s why we decided to take a deep dive into the behavioral science of habits. But never fear; we’ll also offer tips to put your best intentions into action.

Does it take 21 days to form a habit?

Chances are you’ve heard it takes 21 days to form a habit. But where did this urban myth originate? Some say it can be traced back to a self-help book called "Psycho-Cybernetics" published in 1960 by author Maxwell Maltz.

Like many myths, there’s a kernel of truth that gets misconstrued.

Mr. Maltz wrote: “These, and many other commonly observed phenomena, tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to gel.”

And voila, the 21-day myth was born.

Fortunately, researchers weren’t convinced. A 2009 study found that it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. The study concluded that, on average, a new behavior takes about 66 days to become automatic.1

Fast forward to 2023, and researchers are still pondering the habit conundrum. Social scientists at the California Institute of Technology found there’s no magic number for the time it takes to form habits.2

"You may have heard that it takes about 21 days to form a habit, but that estimate was not based on any science," says co-author Dr. Colin Camerer. "Our work supports the idea that the speed of habit formation differs according to the behavior in question and a variety of other factors."

Clearly, there is no one-size-fits-all timeline for healthy behavior change. But why is it so tough? Turns out we may be going about it in the wrong way.

Setting yourself up for success

Too often, we make unrealistic resolutions to start exercising or shedding weight, without taking the steps to set ourselves up for success.

Tara Parker-Pope explored the topic in a New York Times article.3 Importantly, the author offers some research-backed tips to boost your chances of success.

Try habit stacking

Experts suggest linking an existing habit with a new one. Look for daily patterns and figure out a way you can “stack” a new habit. For instance, if you always enjoy a morning cup of coffee, how about squeezing in a one-minute meditation practice? Or, while brushing your teeth, do a few squats or work on your balance by standing on one foot.

Take baby steps

Want to get more exercise? Make it as easy as possible in the beginning. For example, instead of committing to a marathon, commit to a short, daily walk. The same goes for healthy eating; instead of diving into a super restrictive diet, decide to have fruits and veggies with every meal.

Treat yourself!

Rewards are key to habit formation. But unfortunately, the rewards for your healthy habits – say, better health or physical fitness -- aren’t always immediate. “That’s why it helps to build in some immediate rewards to help you form the habit,” Ms. Parker-Pope writes. She suggests listening to audiobooks while exercising or watching a favorite cooking show on the treadmill to reinforce an exercise habit. Or plan an exercise date with a friend, the writer adds.

My advice?

Often the first step is the hardest, but healthy habits beget more healthy habits. For instance, when your daily walk becomes a hard and fast habit, you’ll be more inclined to nourish yourself with nutritious foods.

With time, a bit of motivation, and repetition, your healthy habits will slowly form. Be patient. You may have speed bumps along the way. National Institutes of Health behavioral change expert, Dr. Susan Czajkowski, admits that setbacks can be frustrating.

“The good news is that decades of research show that change is possible, and there are proven strategies you can use to set yourself up for success,” the doctor notes.4

Forming good habits is a long game. However, healthy choices can go a long way in preventing health problems such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type-2 diabetes, and obesity.

Best regards,
The Green Valley Team

  1. European Journal of Social Psychology Eur. J. Soc. Psychol. 40, 998–1009 (2010) Published online 16 July 2009 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI:10.1002/ejsp.674
  2. Buyalskaya, A., Ho, H., Milkman, K. L., Li, X., Duckworth, A. L., & Camerer, C. (2023). What can machine learning teach us about habit formation? Evidence from exercise and hygiene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(17), e2216115120. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2216115120
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/18/well/mind/how-to-build-healthy-habits.html
Brain Vitality Plus

Brain Vitality Plus

Next Generation Cognitive Enhancement & Recovery Matrix

$59.95

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