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As anyone who has caught themselves right before falling back on a bad habit would agree, the force of a habit can be a strong thing. We train our brains through constant conditioning, and all too often we build bad habits because they’re easier to sustain. Building healthy habits can take time, effort, and patience, but the returns we see are exponentially better for our physical, mental, and emotional health. We can start building healthy habits with the help of these five tips offered by Knowable Magazine’s Stephanie Parker.

Breaking Bad, Building Better

As Parker mentions, habits are like shortcuts. They can help us feel satisfied in the moment, regardless of whether they are good or bad. For example, smoking a cigarette can bring you temporary joy but be catastrophic to your long-term health. What’s important to remember is that no matter the type of habit, they take time to form. Which means that they would also take time to break. Parker’s five tips for building healthy habits are as follows:

  1. Timing Matters
  2. Balance Consistency & Flexibility
  3. Start Small
  4. Break the Bad & Introduce the Good Simultaneously
  5. Keep Trying

Timing, just like with everything in life, matters when breaking a habit. Think of New Years Resolutions — they’re fun promises we make to ourselves, even if we don’t always keep them. Bad habits are so hard to break because they offer an immediate boost of dopamine, stimulating our brains with a sense of pleasure and joy. Healthier habits don’t always have an immediate reward; for example, you can’t go to the gym once and expect to immediately get in shape. It helps to have a long-term reward in mind, to help maintain the conditioning needed to build a healthier habit.

Starting small and allowing yourself to be flexible are also keys to success. It can be hard to be consistent, especially if you make a major change to fast. Going cold turkey rarely works out when trying to break a bad habit. Start small and cut yourself some slack if it takes longer to succeed or if you make a mistake early on.

Finally, try juggling breaking bad habits and starting good ones at the same time. Breaking a bad habit may take longer and be more difficult than you might anticipate. However, if we introduce new, healthier habits at the same time, we create a more balanced lifestyle, and are more likely to have the motivation to continue breaking the unhealthy habits.

Building Healthy Habits with Food

One of the most common areas in need of improvement in America is nutrition. Millions of people make the same News Years Resolution to get in shape and give up by February. This is because we take the all or nothing approach. We cut out every bad habit in our lives without going through the necessary steps to break them, and then we also aim for an unobtainable goal. When we trip up, we get understandably frustrated and give up. One way to avoid all of that is to start small, with the foods that we eat.

Three ways to build better eating habits include:

  • Cooking Ahead of Time
  • Keeping healthier foods in sight
  • Start a Routine

Meal-prepping when you cook the week’s food in advance. This helps make it easier to eat regularly, several times a day. When we allow ourselves to get too hungry, we are more likely to go for the unhealthy, processed foods in our pantry.

That said, when we do get too hungry and don’t have a cooked meal at the ready, it helps to have healthier options on hand. Fruit, vegetables, and whole grain snack options are excellent ways to help us stay focuses, build a better habit, and avoid the mindless fistfuls of sugar treats.

Finally, as previously stated, start small and be flexible to help build consistency. To help create a routine, add activities like going to the grocery store more often, or start a hobby with a physical element to it.

These tips together can help you fine tune the healthier habits you’re trying to build. All we can do is be more consistent and try our best. If we put in the effort, we can accomplish anything and be proud of what we have done. That way, our new healthy lifestyle with be a real force of habit.

For more healthy retirement tips and tricks, follow the Council for Retirement Security.