What are Habits?
Habits are the small things we do every day. Those regularly repeated behaviours that happen almost automatically without much thought or effort. They are a key part of a mental health self-care regimen.
Why do habits influence our mental health?
What you repeatedly do ultimately forms the person you are, what you believe, and your overall personality. Your mood, physical health, and level of success are affected and driven by your habits. Your overall mental health is therefore intrinsically linked to your habits.
Transforming our habits is therefore a valuable tool in our self-care toolbox in order to help manage our mental health. By forming new habits and breaking negative ones we can help calm anxiety, reduce stress and become healthier overall.
How long does it take to make or break a habit?
Research says it takes anything from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, with an average of 66 days for it to become truly automatic. Changing habits is not easy and it does require effort and willpower. Don’t get discouraged though, the good news is that by being consistent and staying committed, you can successfully drive the change.
How do we change our habits?
Break it down and start small. If we start small and break the overall goal down into smaller achievable actions that require limited effort, then less willpower is required and the easier it is to achieve. Ultimately, a series of smaller things done on a regular daily basis can generate big results. If we can make it relatively easy to maintain progress for a longer period and can keep a successful streak going, the harder it becomes to break the new habit.
Reward yourself. It can be useful to reward yourself at key milestones, or for achieving a specific streak or level of consistency e.g. 2 weeks of successfully completing the habit. The reward will release the natural chemicals in your brain as you enjoy the success and pride from the achievement, and that in turn will reinforce the habit and help to maintain it successfully.
Track progress. Because we are working in small steps, progress is gradual and can often be lost over time. If we track our progress we can get immediate feedback on our success and an understanding of how we are progressing. This is where a habit tracker tool comes in handy to gain visual feedback on our progress and success.
Journalise Habit Trackers
All of our journals come with 3 months’ worth of habit trackers. If you can successfully maintain a successful streak for that period then there is a high probability that it will become a true habit.
Your first task is to list out the habits you are trying to achieve. In the journals there is space to group these with sections for morning and evening rituals and a further section for daily habits.
Your morning rituals should include ways that will help you prepare yourself for the day. Your evening rituals should include your routine for preparing your mind and body for sleep. Your daily habits will be those things that are less time specific, but that you want to achieve throughout the day, for example, drinking more water or taking set breaks from your work desk.
There are then a set of monthly tracking pages with a column of check boxes for each day where you can log your achievement of each habit as you complete it. Choose how you want to mark these, a couple of common examples are:
- A cross for success, a slash for partial success and a blank if not achieved
- Colouring the box with pencils or highlighters, green for success, orange/yellow for partial success and red if not achieved.
It doesn’t matter what method you use, just choose what works best for you. The aim is that you are tracking your progress and that you can quickly get a visual representation of your level of success.
These habit trackers are then supported by our daily check-in. There is a check box for the morning and evening to remind you to track your habits and for you to log that you’ve done so. There is also a space to log gratitude – a key habit that can have a positive influence on your day (hint, maybe add this as one of your morning habits?). There are also spaces to log your personal self-care goal for the day, and your overall goals and plans for the day. These could include goals related to your habits amongst those specific to that particular day.
For more details of our habit trackers and how to use them see the Habit Tracking Guide.
Examples of habits for mental health self-care?
Certain habits relate particularly to our mental health self-care and you may want to include some of these ideas.
Sleep preparation. Sleep is very important for our mental health. Having a set routine to prepare ourselves for sleep and sticking to set times makes a huge difference in the ability to get a good night’s rest and its quality. An evening routine could include avoiding any screens after a specific time, having a period of meditation before bed and maintaining a set ‘lights out’ time.
Gratitude. Taking time for morning gratitude can help us to start the day more positively and set us up for a successful day. Recognising those things that are good in our life and taking time to acknowledge them will put the mind into a more positive state.
Exercise. Taking time every day, or even a few times a week can help improve our mood and positivity, and of course our physical health. A quick run or walk before/after work, or during a lunch break. Find a time that suits your schedule and that you can commit to.
Try some exercises that you ease stress or reduce anxiety, such as breathing exercises, mindfulness and meditation.
Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, smoking, or changing our diet to eat more healthily. Avoid sugary or processed foods. Drink more water. These can all affect our physical health, our mood, and therefore our mental health. Don’t deny yourself of all treats, the odd treat or reward is good for us. But think about those things that you want to change or reduce that are probably having a negative effect.