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Building Helpful Habits

Aristotle pointed out that repeated actions create a habit, and habits make doing those actions easy. Habits are automatic, done without decision, and almost without thinking. A good moral habit we call a virtue, and a bad habit we call a vice. Practical habits are typically labeled good or bad, helpful or unhelpful.

If you don’t have a habit, you have decide and use willpower to do the right thing. If you struggle because you want to do the right thing, but ultimately cave and do the wrong thing because you want to do that more, your habit of doing what you feel like was stronger than your desire for a new behavior.

If you struggle every morning about whether to eat protein at breakfast or take a walk, your’e still in the training phase, and it’s not a habit. But why do you have the habits you have now? Were they formed because they we easy or they worked, did you learn them from role models or peers?

No one has a healthy life just from reading about nutritious food and exercise. This chapter is all about building habits that support your health and your mind. Don’t worry that you have “bad habits” right now; everyone does and you can definitely change them over time. Visualize what you want to become, or your role model for habits, and find small actions that make it easier to do and remember the actions you need to do to be like that person. Take responsibility for making better choices, even if forces seem to be “against” you. And if your attempt to build a new habit doesn’t work, that’s ok, you can look for another path or decide to pursue a different habit and revisit that one later.

Daily Routines

We’ll first look at habits throughout the day, in the order you might use them, and then at ways to make building habits easier.

Morning Routine

You probably have an idea of what makes the best start to your day. And of course, since the world doesn’t revolve around you, it won’t happen that way all the time. But think about how you could help it work that way.

Starting you day with prayer, stretching, favorite music, reading the Bible or another book, taking a walk, or drinking water, can all start you off strong. Maybe you like to drink coffee or tea, or start something around the house like a load of laundry or a nice breakfast.

Do you need a slow start or a jumpstart? Pick a couple of things that suit you.


Lunch can be a time to recharge and chat with friends and family. If you can make a lunch with protein and vegetables, your afternoon will probably be better. Would a short rest or nap help you feel better? What pace works well for you - a busy morning or a busy afternoon?

Afternoon and Evening

What kind of routines do you have around sports, homework and dinner? Do you have time to talk with your family? Do you prepare for the next day? Do you check the calendar? How many days ahead do you look?

Finishing the Day

The last hour or two of the day can set up your next day to be better. There’s time with family, prayers, hugs. Lay out clothes for the next day, prepare for breakfast, pack a lunch, gather your books, and generally wrap up loose ends so the next day starts smoothly.

It’s a natural time to reflect on the day and its ups and downs, and see if there’s anything to learn to do again or do better. What are you thinking about as you fall asleep?

The Big Picture

Do you have more energy in the morning or afternoon? What part of your day is most productive? Easiest to do school? Best for exercise? Are you realistic about the time needed to complete projects? Do you schedule every second of the day, or leave gaps for the unexpected and social time?

Habit Cues and Stacking

Context makes behaviors easier or harder. It’s easier to exercise at the gym or sports practice than at home in front of a cozy fire. Setting up the situation, and making it easier to do the good behavior you want to do, could be as simple as putting your sock and walking shoes by the bed at night so it’s easy to walk in the morning. The shoes beside the bed become a cue, or signal, to walk.

You can also use a “habit stack to add a behavior on top of something you already do. You could do toe raises while you brush your teeth, or squats while the food heats in the microwave. Some people take deep breaths while the water bottle fills, or think of what they are grateful for while they wash dishes or do other automatic chores.

Other Helpful Habits

Stand or Sit Up Straight with Your Shoulders back

This helps you breathe better and feel more calm and confident

Smile in the Mirror

Smiling makes us feel happier, and smiling in the mirror sends the message to your brain that you like yourself and the way you look.

Smile Through Doorways

A fun random habit that helps you feel more confident and project that confidence

Picture It

For goal-setting and reminders of special moments, pictures are a fun and powerful way to remind yourself of what’s important.

If you have tips for helpful habits, please share in

the comments!

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