This month is mental health awareness month. October is also the time of year when end of year fatigue is starting to creep in, with the consequence that paying attention to health may drop. This is a good time then to put a fresh focus on our physical and mental wellbeing habits.

Imagine a supportive coach is working alongside you with a questioning lens to check out all the things you do in a typical day/week. Looking at all aspects of your life, where is your time going?

Is this action/behaviour/habit helping or hindering:

  • my resilience?
  • my wellbeing?
  • my progress towards my life goals?
  • my values/what is important to me?
  • how productive I am?

You might want to make a list – habits you are happy with, habits that are generally ok but may need a tweak, then habits you would like to change.

Then make a plan. Depending on your personality style and life circumstances at the moment, this may be a hairy audacious plan – a significant overhaul of your habits – or you may prefer small steps and one change at a time.

From the scientific science of habit change, there are some definite tricks to setting yourself up to succeed with habit change.

Repetition strengthens habits – useful or not. Every time we think, feel or do, we strengthen a neural pathway (connections between areas of the brain or nervous system). Any action we take regularly is like a well-worn path – our brain finds these things easy to do. A path is useful when the habits are healthy ones, less so if they are not. (Try to do something different instead of an unhealthy habit and you may notice feeling anxious or irritable.) Try to set up your day and week to make sure you can repeat the habits you want. Want to make sure you get out of the office once a day? You will strengthen this habit faster if you set up your schedule to do it every day rather than once a week.

Reward strengthens habits – when the reward pathway is activated, our brain floods with dopamine. This neurochemical gives us a boost of satisfaction and remembers the habit that created the good feeling. Again then, we want to set up rewards for helpful behaviours – each time I take a break out of the office I will reward myself with my favourite coffee to take back.

Routine strengthens habits – doing something at a similar time each day or week ensures the habit pathway becomes more familiar, and easier to follow. That’s why regular runners might leave the office at a particular time each day, or they don’t schedule meetings over lunch Mondays and Wednesdays as that is when they run.

Another trick to healthy habits is to recognise triggers – what acts to set off the habit you want? Triggers can be:

  • Environmental – places, situations, smells, sounds
  • Social – family, friends, colleagues
  • Emotional – feeling stressed or lonely or anxious or frustrated.

Paying attention to triggers that are useful for you, then making sure these are set up in your day/week, will help you to establish routines, rewards and repetition, and therefore speed the pathway of your healthy habit. You may also want to avoid or change the triggers that interfere.

Have a go this month at strengthening one or more of the healthy habits that are important to you. Build in repetition, reward and routine, and recognise triggers that are helpful.

In our newsletter next month, we’ll take a look at habits that have gone haywire – how to break addictive habits.