Habits against depression are hard to form, but they are worth the effort to put the power back in your hands.
So, you’re starting a new habit.
Congratulations. Changing just one negative habit into a positive one sets you on a path to better mental health and overall well-being. Think of it as a building block for a happier, more stress-free life. Pretty soon, a new and improved you is right around the bend.
Not so fast.
Maintaining that habit—especially over the long haul—isn’t so easy. There are countless justifications for veering off course, and they can be implausibly incidental.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge it’s often the seemingly little things that derail us in major ways,” says Nick Wignall, a clinical psychologist in New Mexico.
That’s because habits are hard. And when you’re not a huge fan of change, they’re even harder. What it takes to stay anchored is discipline. And not the punitive kind. This form of discipline is about control, about being rooted in what you want.
This is, ultimately, about freedom.
As author Gretchen Rubin writes in her book Better Than Before, What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits—to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life, we repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily. That means if we change our habits—what Rubin calls “the invisible architecture of daily life”—we change our lives.
How soon can we expect results? According to a 2009 study from University College London, the average time it takes to form a new habit is 66 days.
True transformation doesn’t happen overnight—and there are definitely better ways than others to go after it.
“The place where people tend to stumble is when they’re being too vague,” says Wignall. “They have grandiose intentions. ‘I’m finally going to get healthy this year,’ or ‘I’m going to go to the gym.’ The key to good intentions is to come up with a specific set of routines and systems to help you stick with the habit over time.”
The fear of failure holds many people back from getting specific. But it’s not the only culprit.
“People talk a lot about what they want to do, but their fear of change—getting out of their comfort zone, being away from the familiar—stops them,” says life coach and motivational speaker Christine Hassler, author of Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life. “People are generally hard on themselves, so they avoid the backlash of the inner critic that will come out if they don’t succeed at starting a new habit.”
So, be clear with your goals, but understand that sticking with them is an imperfect process. There will be slip-ups along the way. That’s life no matter where you are on the motivation spectrum—whether the reason for behaving in a certain way tends to stem from within or from fear, from incentives or rewards, or from the desire to learn or be accepted. The gentler you are with yourself when these inevitable slip-ups happen, the more likely you’ll be to get back into the swing of things.
Sarah, who lives in Georgia, joined a gym this spring without having a lot of interest in going. But she did join, and one week during a boot camp class, a fit woman in her 60s told her, “If I can do it, you can do it.”
That was all it took for 29-year-old Sarah—who’d been self-conscious about her body since middle school—to start a regular workout routine. While before she would drag her feet in the morning, trying to persuade herself to go to the gym, now she feels eager to get there.
Repetition and support have been key to staying on track. She takes the same classes every week and has made several workout buddies.
“There’s a lot of accountability,” she says. “The one day I didn’t go, people noticed that I was gone.”
Was this a case of mind over matter? Perhaps—and recent research out of Stanford University shows why that phenomenon may have legs.
The study, published earlier this year in the journal Nature Human Behavior, discovered after simply telling people they have a predisposition to certain genetic risks—such as a low capacity for exercise—their bodies’ physiology changed, even when their DNA didn’t have anything to do with the risks being described.
What if this worked in reverse? What if our bodies’ physiology changed for the better if we thought we had a high capacity for exercise?
A lot of what we do or don’t do comes down to self-sabotage, according to Sharon Fraser, a certified health coach from Pennsylvania.
“For example, you normally set your alarm for 7 o’clock to get up and exercise,” she says. “It goes off, and you say, ‘Ten more minutes?’ then hit the snooze button for 10 minutes—then another 10 minutes. That’s self-sabotage. You have a goal, and you’re working against your goal.”
Fraser proposes creating a daily schedule that won’t interfere with your exercise plan, even if you have to get up earlier to get it completed. Willpower is usually weaker toward the end of the day.
“When you feel as if you’re doing the right thing for yourself, it takes a lot of pressure off the brain,” says Fraser. “If you set a goal and achieve that goal, what greater feeling can you have? It propels you to get to the next level.
“And it’s not necessarily about big goals,” she continues. “Small achievements keep adding on and become a big accomplishment. Trying to climb a hill all in one step isn’t going to work.”
Food-related decisions these days often have to do with two extremes—busy schedules or boredom.
“We’ve forgotten why we eat in the first place,” says Katie McDonald, a self-care strategist in Rhode Island. “It’s meant to do something for us. It has a purpose aside from entertainment, from numbing. It’s a tool for awakening. People should renegotiate their relationship with food, so there’s an opportunity to reconnect with themselves instead of using it as a tool to reward themselves.”
A 2006 study at Cornell University, published in the academic journal Environment and Behavior, found while people estimate they make roughly 15 food-and beverage-related decisions a day, the actual average is 221—most of them made on autopilot and unknowingly influenced by environmental cues.
In fact, science has found to save energy, the brain looks for triggers to cue behavior, and that happens without our conscious consent.
To be more aware of what you consume, McDonald suggests logging everything that “crosses your lips” into a notebook or food-tracking app. Next, have a plan for when and what you’re going to eat to make quick decisions unnecessary, because “the quality of food goes down when urgency goes up.” Start using recipes and read their nutritional profiles.
The trick for guarding new habits against sabotage is to be consistent.
“If we’re not consistent, then every day we have to make a choice again until we’re in a state of decision fatigue, and we become immobilized,” explains McDonald. “The criteria for eating now becomes about convenience instead of the higher standards of well-being, emotional stability, and mental restoration. It becomes about what’s in front of me, what’s fast, what gives me immediate relief from stress.”
Missouri’s Ruth, 66, realized she needed to limit sweets and sugars after becoming overweight and feeling less and less comfortable with how she looked. Because she “is lazy about cooking for myself,” she has come up with several habits that have led to a nearly 20-pound weight loss over the past year.
“I keep in mind that my habits don’t have to be the same as everybody else’s,” she says, referring to her breakfast routine of salad with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and sugar snap peas, as well as occasional low-sodium, low-calorie croutons.
In addition, Ruth keeps her freezer stocked with frozen, store-prepared fresh fish. This allows her to warm up something quickly for dinner—a move that keeps her from ordering a pizza she’d be tempted to eat in one sitting. She eats only until she’s no longer hungry, and snacks between meals on veggies, fruit, low-salt pretzels, and nuts.
“It’s OK to break my own rules on occasion,” she says. “I treat myself with no more than two pieces of dark chocolate. Then I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself, and i don’t eat the whole box at one time. I just get myself out and walk around the block a couple times to make up for it.”
McDonald says deprivation has no place in building new habits around food. Adding worthwhile choices, on the other hand—such as incorporating whole foods into meals and keeping clutter off the table where you eat—is exponentially more helpful.
“I’m not interested in the word ‘diet,’” she says. “The first three letters spell ‘die.’ That is not going to inspire me to bring about change.”
Instead, McDonald works with clients over a six-month period to develop a plan for meaningful change. The first week is the honeymoon period; clients typically are excited to be starting new habits. By the second week, they’re often struggling. This is when McDonald tells them she doesn’t care if they feel like sticking to the plan—she cares that they want a certain kind of life and they’re taking certain steps to get there.
“While I’m all about being in the moment,” she says, “I’m not about being in the moment when it comes to what you choose to eat when adopting new habits.”
Raj, from New York City, used to get between five and six hours of sleep, if she was lucky, when she was feeling particularly anxious. Now that she has established a nighttime routine—incorporating a transitional time of rest in which she stops texting and rests on the couch—she gets about seven hours of sleep.
A morning ritual has been just as important. “It’s definitely part of your sleep habit and dictates how you’re going to jump into the day,” says Raj, who spends at least 20 minutes drinking coffee, writing down her plans, and staring out the window.
Unlike most sleep-habit advice she found online, Raj doesn’t subscribe to the idea that she has to shun all technology at least one hour before bedtime. Scrolling through curated social media—mostly pictures and videos of dogs, babies, and affirmations, and no ex-boyfriends—relaxes her so she can fall asleep at all.
She recalls: “At first, my psychologist said, ‘No, this isn’t a good idea.’ But then we talked about ‘harm reduction’ and how I needed to make changes in my life that work for me.”
Robert N. Glidewell, a licensed psychologist and certified behavioral sleep specialist in Colorado, has two thoughts on that: “One is that people are very creative and oftentimes they can intuitively find solutions that are right for them, and they don’t need us as experts to be sticking our fingers in it. The other side is with insomnia, often the intuitions we have about what to do actually make it worse.”
That said, he posits that if Raj was in his office and she made a good case for why her solution was soothing, he wouldn’t have any objections.
For most, Glidewell says, good sleep habits start with acting like you want to go bed. Spend 20 to 30 minutes winding down—brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, meditating, reading a book, or listening to music, for instance.
Research has shown changing the content of your thoughts before hitting the sack also yields benefits. Glidewell points to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research showing gratitude before bed predicted good sleep quality and duration for people with clinical impaired sleep habits.
“Whether positive or negative, our thoughts will change our sleep for the better or worse,” he wrote in a blog post on the subject.
Try this for at least two weeks: About a half hour before bed, spend five minutes writing down five experiences or events you are grateful for that happened within the last 24 hours. Then spend 30 seconds thinking about each experience on your list.
“The more you focus your thoughts on fully remembering each experience, the stronger this exercise will be,” he wrote.
If you’re not great at managing your money, you’re not alone. Personal finance expert and journalist Kristin Wong has dedicated numerous articles—and wrote the book Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford—about just that.
“When you regularly tell yourself things like ‘I can’t save more’ or ‘I’m just bad at money,’ it’s like giving yourself permission to ignore your financial situation,” she writes.
Wong says the good habits that work best when it comes to money—sticking to a budget and being frugal—are not new.
This isn’t about avoiding spending. It’s about planning for what you spend. Want to go to a Broadway play? Tuck a small amount of money each week into an envelope for that purpose and watch how you can get what you want rather painlessly.
“Managing your finances becomes less about money itself and more about accomplishing the things that actually matter to you,” writes Wong.
Abde knows about envelopes. Growing up in middle-class India, he would see his father give his monthly paycheck in cash to his mother, who would divide it among multiple envelopes for rent, groceries, clothing and pocket money.
“Money is always a scarce commodity no matter how much you have, so frugality was always a virtue,” he remembers.
As a result, Abde now manages his finances by a couple of tenets.
First, differentiate between needs and wants. “The need,” he notes, “is that you’ve got to live in a clean and safe environment. The want is that you’d like to live in a fancy clean and safe environment.”
Second, he adds, is that “delayed gratification is an important thing. Just because you have the money doesn’t mean you have to spend it.”
Though writing their book for schools, noted educators Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick present useful information for anyone inLearning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success. Those habits include persisting, thinking flexibly, taking responsible risks, striving for accuracy, and finding humor.
Notice that one of the habits is striving for accuracy—not achieving accuracy.
Be merciful when things don’t always go as planned, or you fall a bit short of your expectations.
“It’s hard enough when you slip up—don’t go adding shame and disappointment that gets you weighed down and hopeless,” says Wignall, the clinical psychologist. “Get at this idea of gentle habit formation. Instead of going to a default, probably negative, script, be compassionate with yourself. And be realistic.”
Printed as “Building Habits,” Summer 2019
The post The Under-Appreciated Power Of Habits To Prevent Depression appeared first on hopetocope.com | Hope To Cope With Anxiety & Depression.
via hopetocope.com | Hope To Cope With Anxiety & Depression
(This and our other articles are provided by some of our curated resources. We encourage readers to support them and continue to look to these sources in times of need and opportunity.)