Hoorah for The Healthy Habitual

Motivation is a powerful tool used to drive the completion of important tasks or goals. Dr Callum Forrest explores what motivation is, why some people seem to have it more than others and what you can do to become a healthy habitual in 66 days.

Dr Callum Forrest

Motivation is a hot topic of debate for psychologists and experts in human behaviour. Currently it is understood that motivation is driven by the brain’s desire for dopamine, a neurotransmitter commonly associated with pleasure which is released just before a reward is received.

For many, this reward is the outcome of the goal they set themselves. The more value we place on the outcome, the greater our drive and willingness to complete the tasks needed to reach this goal. For some the driving factors, may be money, a new car or running a marathon but what motivates one person may not motivate another. It is unique to what we place value in.

Although a great driver in certain circumstances, relying on motivation may have its flaws. A study carried out at Columbia University showed that we only get a finite amount of willpower per day. As we make more and more decisions we become fatigued by the choices. With time our willpower diminishes and our motivation to follow through on tasks declines. This is often referred to as decision fatigue.

Although motivation can give us the drive to succeed in key tasks, whether we should rely on it for something as important as our health, particularly when it can be detrimentally influenced by a busy life and decision fatigue is questionable. Consider that health is a spectrum. At one end we have optimal health and the other end is poor health. The decisions we make daily either move us up or down this spectrum. The most impactful are the small decisions we make from choosing what we eat for breakfast to how much we move throughout the day. We often give these decisions little thought. These small decisions, although important to our health, are not driven by motivation. The lack of tangible results on their completion means there is not the release of dopamine as a reward and therefore we don’t have the drive to complete them every day.

So how do we make these positive steps in our health if we aren’t driven to do so? The answer is simple – Build healthy habits.

Most people associate habits with something ‘bad’ like smoking or running late. But the power of habits can be used for positive things as well as negative. Habits are automatic. They do not require thought and as such we do not need to be motivated to complete them.

Building a routine of healthy habits, which repeated daily, weekly or monthly move us up the spectrum of health, is the key to long term health. This tactic is not affected by decision fatigue, therefore no matter how busy or hectic life can get we can ensure our health stays on an uninterrupted path up the spectrum.

There is a slight catch however. For us to form a habit we do have to the action, consciously, many times. Studies have shown that it takes 66 days of consistency before it becomes a habit. But once you’ve reached that point it becomes automatic.

So what good habits should we form?

Most people already have a few daily healthy habits from brushing their teeth to washing their hands. However there are room for many more. Below is our top five healthy habits:

1.Drink 500ml of cold water 20 minutes before breakfast. This replaces the water used during sleep, increases the metabolism by 24% over the following 90 minutes, flushes out toxins and helps prevent overeating during breakfast.

2.Walk at least 1km to and from work daily. Walking a kilometre can take as little as 10 minutes and adding this into your routine twice a day helps promote joint, muscle and cardiovascular health. Jump off the bus a stop early or park the car a few blocks further away

3.Have healthy snacks to hand. A handful of nuts or carrot sticks keeps mid-morning hunger at bay while also being low in sugar. This will help maintain stable hormone levels and concentration throughout the day. It will also prevent overeating at lunch

4.Leave your phone out of the bedroom. The blue light emitted by electronic devices reduces our quality of sleep which has further reaching impacts on our health. Buy an alarm clock instead of using your phone, and;

5.Increase your sleep by 30 minutes. Sleep itself is one of the most powerful tools for improving health. Sleep is the time the brain and body repairs from the activities of the day before. 30 extra minutes will have a huge impact.

For busy professionals building an armoury of healthy habits ensures workload, stress and life will not get in the way of striving, and thriving, with good health.

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