Looking back on the past year … wait, nobody really wants to relive that, right? You’re probably more interested in a fresh start and starting 2022 off better than the years before.
Even now, the Omicron variant means COVID-19 precautions – getting vaccinated, getting boosted, following safety measures – aren’t going away. But “this is a new year where so many new beginnings are going to be happening as we work to get back to some semblance of normalcy,” Dr. Christopher Celano, associate director of the Cardiac Psychiatry Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston says.
Whether you’re stepping back into pre-pandemic habits or staying home and trying to form new ones, here are ways to make things happy and healthy.
Reward yourself for health
The pandemic upset a lot of routines. Few of us like change, but it’s not all bad, according to Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“Every time there’s change or disruption, it alters your living environment in ways that influence your habits,” notes Wood, author of “Good Habits/Bad Habits: The Science of Making Changes That Stick.”
A habit, she says, is basically a shortcut by which your brain automates your behavior. When habits get disrupted, it’s stressful, because you have to think. “And that’s definitely a challenge,” she says. “But it is also an opportunity.”
Research shows creating a healthy habit isn’t about mere willpower. A key part is about replacing the behavior you want to change, Wood adds. “The easiest way to do this is to change the cues to the old pattern – maybe move the doughnuts off the kitchen counter or don’t even buy them in the first place. Until then, that old habit will still be there, even if you’ve resolved to change.”
Say you’re headed back to the office and are worried about falling into an old pattern of grabbing fast food at lunch. Wood’s solution: Before you return, put some rewarding alternatives in place. Zero in on a healthy restaurant you want to try, or buy a new lunchbox with healthy treats that you enjoy preparing each morning.
“It needs to be something that you enjoy, that you find easy to repeat, in order to repeat behavior enough to form a new habit,” she says. “Be aware that old habits will still be activated once you get back into that old work situation.”
This technique worked for Wood, who works out at home on an elliptical. At first, she hated it. Then, “I figured out I could read trashy novels and watch TV shows while I did it. And I don’t have time for those things normally, but on the elliptical, I do. And I enjoy it. It’s part of my habitual routine now, and I work out regularly.”
Make it easy
Another key to forming a healthy habit is to remove barriers to doing it. So if you’re hoping to restart a gym habit,