How to use psychology to form healthy new habits

Want to embark on a new lifestyle to be a better version of you? Find out how to use psychology to form healthy new habits.

The personal development industry has grown hugely in popularity over the past few decades. But where do you start if you want to become a better version of yourself?

Listening to motivational speakers and reading personal development books is a great place to begin. But for most of us, simply consuming information about how to be better isn’t enough. It’s easy to be inspired to make changes for a day or two, maybe even a few weeks… only to inevitably return to or normal lives (and bad habits).

Changing who we are and becoming better is something that we may strive for, but it won’t happen overnight just by reading and listening to a motivational speaker. Instead we have to take action, and make lasting changes to our lifestyle that can be realistically maintained.

There are many theories about the best ways to do this. Most of them involve willpower and motivation, but sometimes they’re not enough.

Many behavioral researchers have concluded that the biggest changes are made by forming new habits that will help us become the person we want to be. It will take time, but following some simple steps will get you closer to that aim.

Habits and the brain

If you want to achieve something, you first need to understand what that achievement involves. For example, if you want to buy a water bowl for your cat, you might want to read this short guide to understand why one product might be better than others.

The same applies to the formation of new habits. First, you have to understand how they are formed inside the brain.

You may have heard of the conscious and the unconscious mind. Our brains gather information from our sensory organs. They absorb everything – all the details about everything that surrounds us.

However, we don’t need to be conscious of everything that happens around us. So to protect us from overwhelm, not all of that information is passed to our conscious mind.

That is why, at first, when you want to form a new habit, like doing the dishes every night before going to bed, your conscious mind has to remember that it has to do something, and it is conscious of how you do it.

It has to wait for that habit to become automated so that it won’t need to focus its attention on it. After you do the habit enough times for it to become automated, it moves to your unconscious mind, and you won’t need to think about what you are doing – it will become second nature to you.

It’s just like driving a car. When you first start learning to drive you need to consciously think about everything you do, but after a while it becomes instinctive, and you drive without consciously thinking about when to change gears or how to steer.

How to build new habits

Habits are easier to acquire if you anchor it to an existing habit. For example, if you want to read 10 pages of a book every day, you can set a goal to do that after you have eaten breakfast. This way, your brain will know that every time you eat breakfast, you have to read 10 pages.

Another useful trick is to make the habit enjoyable. So, if you want to start using a cycling machine every day, you have to work out how to make it fun. You could listen to your favorite music while doing it, or watch your favorite TV show. Your brain always correlates an action with emotion – and this will help encourage you to cycle every day.

Tracking your habits is also helpful. There are apps that help you do that, or you can record your progress in a journal. Consciously noting improvements and progress will release dopamine, which in turn will help you to stick to your new healthy habits.

Photo by Dani Marroquin