If not now, chances are the feeling will kick-in post-Christmas. A new year, just like a birthday and the advent of a new season, provokes some self-reflection.
So let’s get in early before classic holiday over-indulgence, to look at what we can do to help ourselves keep those habits healthy.
What makes a habit?
According to a 2012 article published by Dr Benjamin Gardner, Lecturer in Health Psychology at University College London, habits need what he calls ‘contextual cues’ to come about.
“Within psychology, ‘habits’ are defined as actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues.”
In other words, you wash your hands as a habit (the action) after using the bathroom (the contextual cue). There needs to be a contextual cue, something that causes you to make that action to eventually turn it into an automatic response.
The benefits of creating habits, according to Dr Gardner, cross over from the physical to the mental.
“Habits are also cognitively efficient, because the automation of common actions frees mental resources for other tasks.”
In other words, the more systems you establish for daily processes, such as cleaning, exercise, goal setting, mental exercise etc. the more space in your head you have to allow creative or problem-solving thoughts to occur.
With the concept of ‘contextual cues’ firm in your mind, here are a few ways in which you can use habits to start your mornings off on the right track.
Break up your morning
Some parents may scoff at the idea of a child being conducive to good habits, life is never like those frustratingly perfect homes that are paraded in front of us on lifestyle sites and magazines. But children can be the contextual cue that inspires healthy habits.
If your children are still young, use their love for arts and crafts to create visual cues that you collectively follow in the morning (if you don’t have children, this is still a great methodology). Be as creative as you like, but colourful visual cues stuck up on the fridge will give you and your children a structure to follow and make it easier for you to delineate your mornings.
These can be as simple as writing down the children’s morning routine (have a shower, eat their breakfast, clean their teeth, make their bed, watch 10 minutes of tv etc.) as well as your own.
Train your body clock
Your mind can be trained to get up just a little bit earlier each day but contextual cues can make it much easier to establish good habits.
Separate yourself from technology within your bedroom. For instance, put your phone in the living room and rely on an alarm clock.
Place the alarm clock away from your bed, so you have to get up to turn it off. If it’s winter and cold, make sure a warm dressing gown is right near your alarm clock so you aren’t tempted to run back to bed.
Lastly, consider sleeping with the curtains/blinds drawn, especially on weekends. You may occasionally wake with the birds but your mind will grow used to waking up with the morning light, making it easier to gradually set your rising time back.
Create a blank slate
Ten minutes of meditation can be enough to create the right emotional base for the rest of your day.
Goal setting or reflecting can also be an effective and quick way to exercise your mind and set out your expectations for the day. For instance, note down the tasks you want to achieve each day, or alternatively you can exercise the left side of your brain and note down how you are feeling that morning.
You are going to have plenty of distractions thrown at you throughout your day, which is why the morning can be a great opportunity to eliminate any unnecessary distractions to allow for contextual cues to do their work.
One big distraction to avoid, and one that is at the pointy end of your morning, is listening to music or the radio when driving.
Limited research has been done into the effects of listening to music when driving, but it seems obvious that having no music or radio means there are fewer external influencers on your mood, allowing you to enter the working part of your day with a more balanced mood.
Creating healthy dietary habits follows similar principles. Precision Nutrition offers separate starter kits for men and women who want to reassess their nutrition and form better habits in terms of their exercise and their diet.