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Why do you brush your teeth in the morning?
Why do you tie your shoes before you go for a walk?
These are stupid questions that have profound answers.
You've learned to do these things because of just one word.
These simple behaviors are now habitual actions.
For mental health, it's the same thing.
You need good habits.
But you probably already know that.
What you may not know is the simple process that makes it all happen.
I Didn't Actually Understand Habits for Mental Health
I thought I realized what a habit was.
To me, it was something annoyingly simple--something like, say, brushing your teeth.
You do an action enough until it becomes a habitual behavior.
Something reliable and trustworthy like a well-worn sweater.
But that's not all that a habit is.
It's not a mindless behavior that just happens to stick around.
It's also a weapon.
A gladiator's sword.
A light cutting through the darkness.
Before you think I've had too much coffee and need to get a life, let me explain the connection between habits and great mental health.
The Habit Process in 3 Steps
A routine can be a habit.
When you get up in the morning and when you go to bed--that can be a habit.
What you during your morning and evening routines can also have mini-habits tucked in there.
Habits are simple at their core, but you can bundle multiple habits to form a super habit.
For instance, if you have a habit of cleaning off your desk when you've finished working for the day, that might set up a habit to get right to work the next day without distraction.
If you create a habit to clear your cupboard of almost all of your junk food, you could train your brain to just go right for the good stuff.
Environment matters, and you can bake good habits into wherever you are.
To do this, you need to remember a few things. Three things, in fact.
Here's a simple 3-step formula for creating new habits in your life:
I don't want you to obsess over all the things you're not doing--and all the ways you haven't improved. I want you to memorize these three components.
Habits and the habit-formation process are composed of:
- A cue / trigger
- A behavior
- And a reward
That's it: A cue/trigger, a behavior, and a reward.
Before I learned to tie my shoes with any regularity, I needed to have these three habit components in place.
Now, there are other factors in play here, such as the motivation I have to not walk around shoeless and the vital knowledge that shoes make it easier to get around in the first place, but this discussion is just about the habit process.
When I have the thought to go outside, I see my shoes and put them on. The fact that they are on my feet cues my brain to go ahead and tie them.
So I do.
After that's done, my reward is that I can now go outside and accomplish my goals for the day.
My shoes trigger the behavior that produces the reward.
This might seem stupidly obvious, but that's how it goes with the formation of any behavior.
Habit Questions to Think About Right Now
How can you make the behaviors you'd like to change as obvious as this?
How can you leave certain objects out in the open to make adopting the behavior as easy as possible?
And how can you reward yourself after you've completed the intended action?
Don't overcomplicate this.
You've established all kinds of behaviors in your lifetime, and you're not done yet.
Just remember what's at the heart of them all.
The simple, tried-and-true, habit-building process.