We have entered into yet another year. And a new year gives us the perfect opportunity to start new habits. But the most common problem that we all face is keeping up with the habits that we set and following them through. When it comes to mental health, habit formation can be a really effective form of self-care. On the days that you feel like everything is too much, habits ingrained into your routine can help give that little push you need to do basic tasks that in turn might help you feel better.
But before we take a look at what habits might actually help with self-care, have you ever wondered what actually goes into forming habits?
Habit formation is essentially broken down into 3 parts
- The cue
- The action and
- The reward
We are given an incentive to do the action and once done, we reward ourselves to keep the positive loop up. But complexities in real-life habits make habit formation not as simple as it sounds.
One of the popular studies that talks about habit formation looks at how automaticity relates to complexity of an activity . The study concludes that consistency in settings is key to keeping up the habit. The more we perform an action, the more it becomes easier to turn it into a habit. And the level of automaticity also depends on the complexity of the task. The more complex a task, the lesser we tend to do it and hence the longer it takes to turn it into a habit.
This gives us insight into what we can do to form effective habits — break them down into simpler, doable tasks. The simpler it is, the more times we are intrinsically motivated to it and the easier it turns into a habit. Now, how do we use habits as a form of self-care?
Habits as a form of automated self-care
Now that we’ve taken a look at what goes into forming habits, here are a few habits that you can consider building into your routine!
1. Planning out your whole day – One of the major things we struggle with, especially under the virtual environment we are working in given the pandemic, is feeling productive. Feeling unproductive can be a big let down and can weigh on us immensely.
Planning out your whole day on a calendar system with allocating blocks of time for each task you wish to complete can help you tackle your day better. You will have set goals in mind to achieve and you can even get them done with menial distractions. But also keep in mind to set realistic tasks that you can achieve without pushing yourself too much.
2. Logging your day – Journaling and keeping track of your thoughts and emotions can be a great way of understanding your own self. Identifying what causes you unease and distress can be a great way to work towards bettering them. Doing this can also be a great way to remember your days as much more than just blurs of passing time.
3. The 2 minute rule – This is something that is explained in the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. He goes on to say that if some activity can be completed in 2 minutes then it should be done right then rather than later. I’ve followed this myself and it is a great way to actually finish small tasks that build up with time and seem like mountains that tire you out to climb at the end of the day.
Things like making your bed, washing your small dishes as soon as you use them, arranging your shoes when you enter your home are all some examples of this habit that I’ve developed myself and it serves as small bursts of happiness and accomplishment at the end of a long day.
4. Meal-prepping – This one is actually something that has helped me quite a bit. As someone who has to cook their own food for every meal, every single day, it becomes very tiring very easily. Cooking can become more like a chore needed for survival than something to look forward to. While resorting to take-out is always an option, I prefer to meal-prep so that I can easily reheat my meals, save some money and also make sure I have a healthier diet, all of which help in feeling better about myself.
5. Exercise – This might be the most heard of tip, but believe me it works. I’m not a person who enjoys exercising nor do I particularly want to be social and go out but doing some form of physical activity really does help. It can be as short as a 10 minute yoga stretch/ workout or even a small walk in your terrace. But this habit, as cliche as it might be, works. Do not forget that physical health influences your mental well-being as well and remember to take breaks and take care of yourself.
Habits might seem very hard to form, but a small step a day can actually help build them quicker than you might believe. Start off with simple tasks and track them over a time period. Before you know it, you’ll have built effective habits that actually help you with your physical and mental well-being. Happy habit building!
 Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998–1009.