How new habits form

Save yourself time and frustration: learn how to break bad habits and to form new habits!

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter – a Sunday morning email that shares mindful moments, health tips, and interesting news to make you smile. Sign up to receive yours, and be sure to share with a friend!

 

When you were born, you had about 86 billion neurons. That’s 86 billion nodes by which electrical signals (i.e., conscious and subconscious thought) could be transferred. Each day, signals get sent in particular directions, controlling your speech, your hand-eye coordination, your musicality…and just about everything else in your body.

 

As you repeat specific actions or patterns, like throwing a ball, or saying your name, the connections get stronger. It’s like a path in the middle of the woods: as you tread through the same routes over and over, they get more defined and distinct.

 

At the same time, your brain is pruning other connections that it’s deemed you don’t need. It’s in this period where things haven’t been pruned so much that makes kids so great at picking up new skills, like speaking a second language. They have so many connections in their brain that learning happens better and faster than it does in adults.

 

Why the brain lesson?

If you’re a longtime reader of this newsletter, you know that we talk a lot about habits. Habits are essentially those well-worn paths in our brains. We perform these actions automatically and without too much effort.

 

If you’re trying to change a habit, learn something new, or react differently in specific situations, it’s like you’re walking through a vast forest. You might make your way through it, but it’s dark, full of branches, and difficult to find your way.

 

The second time you find yourself there, you recognize a tree or two. You remember where that particularly treacherous ditch was.

 

The third time, you take a quicker pace. You start to leave markers that tell you which direction to go and which paths to avoid.

 

Each time gets easier and easier, you get faster and faster, and that path becomes more well worn.

 

Understanding this is key to forming new habits and breaking bad ones.

 

We want instant results.

We think that when it takes us a long time to learn something that we’re dumb.

We feel that if we’re 100% consistent with our new habits, we lack motivation or are otherwise deficient.

 

In truth? We’re playing out our biology. We’re foraging through paths unknown. And while the forest is dark, we’re building signposts to make a brighter future possible.

 

When you embark on a new habit, I ask you to have compassion for your brain that is trying to make a journey through a dark forest. I ask you to keep trying again and again to build the new habit. Know that you are laying down the foundations for a clear path, and help you brain out by removing yourself from situations or placing yourself in situations that make success easier.

 

Your assignment:

Think back to a habit you’ve tried to give up or change in recent months. What was the process like? Did it get easier over time? What can you learn about your experience for another habit that you’d like to change? You can share your experience in the comments below or with other members of our Happy Healthy Human community in our private Facebook group. Your experience might bring you or someone else exactly the inspiration needed to take the next step. Thank you for sharing!

 

  Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,   samantha attard sig

 

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter – a Sunday morning email that shares mindful moments, health tips, and interesting news to make you smile. Sign up to receive yours, and be sure to share with a friend!

samantha attard happy healthy humanSamantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.

 

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Why “made with love” actually works

made with love photo

Today I took a trip down memory lane to my days as a barista. When I was training, I struggled to make latte art – the pretty heart design you see on lattes at your favorite local coffee shop. I would stand there, jaw clenched, pouring latte after latte, convinced that some magic or miracle would make it finally appear. No dice.

 

One day, I took a different approach. I said to myself: “Samantha – it’s like hitting a baseball. You keep you eye on the ball, you watch it approach, and you see yourself make contact. Now go for it.”

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These 4 steps guarantee better health today

best health habits photoDoes the thought of making healthier choices stress you out?

Seems counter-intuitive, but don’t worry, it’s not just you.  I’ve been there, and I talk with readers and clients every day that feel the same way, too. There is so much information out there, so many books, and opinions…everyone “knows” how you should optimize your life or live better now.

And because it’s essentially impossible to implement everyone’s advice at the same time, all of that information can be paralyzing.

 

The problem is not with your commitment to living healthier. You know that you want to eat better, move more, and feel less stressed, but where do you start? If you’re ready to start making healthier choices, but simply get overwhelmed just thinking about all the ways you can change your life for the better, here are some tips and tools you can use to get yourself on track to a healthier and happier day-to-day.

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Setting Better Goals

setting better goals photo
Photo by Ryan McGuire via gratisography.

Here’s a question for you: are you bad at following through on your health goals, or is it that you’re bad at setting goals?

 

In my coaching practice, many clients tell me that they’re bad at the follow through. They try a diet, they try to meditate, they try to exercise, and they can’t seem to stick to it. Now any sort of generalization like “I’m bad at keeping goals” raises some red flags, so my follow-up question is usually “well, what goals did you set?” The reply completely explains the source of the issue….

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The surprising ways your surroundings can help you be healthier in 2015

calm space photo

Making our way into the new year, many of us are creating resolutions full of actions: the things we want do or not do to have a better year than the one before. These very “me” centered resolutions put a lot of pressure on us to automate, plan, and perfect our daily routines.

 

But healthy living is not just about you. A critical aspect of living a healthier life is cultivating conditions around you to make it easier to living healthy.

There is a saying that humans are a product of our environment. So why don’t we bring some focus to cultivating an environment that sets us up for success in our health goals?

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Happy, Healthy, and most definitely Human

living healthfully photo

In last weeks’ newsletter, I talked about the inevitable mistakes and slip ups we make while living a healthy lifestyle. You’d think it’d be easy to make those decisions that support our health – just think about the sheer number of health articles, books and tips you’re read this year…. Even with incredible amounts of information at our fingertips, none of us manage to act as healthy as can be 100% of the time.  Yet, many of us have the expectation that we have to be striving for 100% health.

 

Even though the holiday season gets a lot of blame from health professionals…

living healthfully is a conscious decision 365 days per year.

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Your best morning routine

Best morning routine workbook picture

Morning routines get a lot of press. Everyone has an opinion about how you should start your day.

We’re supposed to exercise, but also get our creative energy flowing by doing the most important work of the day! Or, it probably is best to separate ourselves from work by meditating, taking a walk, relaxing with a coffee, and…don’t forget that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!….I’m ready to go back to bed just reading that list.

The result of all these opinions about what we “should do” can turn into morning anxiety – we want to make the best use of our time, but instead, we end up thinking about all the things that we’re NOT doing but feel like we should. I hate morning anxiety, particularly because morning is my favorite time of day! I get a delicious cup of coffee, the world is a little quiet, it’s nice and cool even in the summer…there’s so much possibility. But I have decided: it’s time to take back our mornings! Because the best morning is not the morning where you do all of the things you “should” be doing.

The best morning is one in which you are doing whatever supports your priorities and goals. Same as your noon, afternoon, evening, and night.

In this post, first I discuss how to build your best morning routine. Then, I include a handy workbook you can download to keep you on track with your best morning routine. Even if you’re happy with your morning routine as it currently stands, I invite you to read through the article before you use the workbooks, so you can check in with your morning routine and ensure it is still fitting your needs. I’ve found that I sometimes hang on to routines that aren’t serving me anymore, so it’s a great idea to make sure your morning routine is still working best for you.

Ready to get your best morning routine? Let’s get started!
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Why I don’t meditate during my commute

Meditate Commute thumbnail
Image by Mo Riza

I have a lot of things to occupy my time. Between school work, coaching, my personal yoga practice, and yoga teacher training…not to mention quality time with my boyfriend, friends, and family…my day fills up pretty quickly.

I have been struggling with building a meditation practice for years. I have jumped on and fallen off many times. I try 10 minutes a day. Eyes open. Eyes closed. Guided. Silent. I have a repertoire of strategies I use to try to stick to a consistent practice, but as of yet I haven’t been successful.

As I was pondering my newest strategy to trick myself into maintaining a meditation practice, I suddenly realized “Aha!! I’ll meditate during my commute!” I have a 15-20 minute bus ride to work each day, and I could spend this time in quiet meditation. I have seen this concept touted many times…meditation is one of those things like sodoku, learning a language, or catching up on emails that is supposed to take the wasted time of commuting and make it useful to us (funny how obsessed we are of making everyone moment useful…).
But as I was imagining what my commute meditation practice would look like, I realized that meditating during my commute wouldn’t work.
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How to start making healthy choices

Building healthier choices into your life can be a daunting task. There’s exercising every day, getting enough sleep every day, feeding your family right every day. None of these goals are easy to achieve, and particularly are hard to implement every single day. Because we phrase our goals in this way, it can be difficult to even imagining incorporating these practices into our current routine.

In chemistry, in our bodies, and in our lives, every action needs activation energy. Activation energy is a term used in chemistry for the really high amount of energy that chemical reactions need to get started. After the activation energy is reached, similar to pushing a rock up a hill, the reaction tumbles forward, and your energy to remain in that state plateaus at a normal, stable level. In chemistry, requiring high activation energy is a matter of protection! You don’t want things firing off all the time, making molecules, breaking apart, disrupting the balance. There has to be a clear and strong call to action before the infantry in your body get moving.
Activation energy

When it comes to the decisions we make every day, that high activation energy can stop us from taking the first step towards reaching our lifestyle goals.
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