Can behavioural science help me hack self-care?

Kitty doesn’t need to try to adopt self-care behaviours. He only cares about Kitty.

In my day job, I’m used to looking at other people’s health behaviours and dissecting what the challenges are and what is needed to support the adoption of healthier behaviours. In my own life, not so much. It’s that usual thing of giving the best advice to others but being unable to adopt it yourself.

Self-care is part of this too – daily meditation, regular yoga practice, journalling, walks and other exercise, and small rituals that make a difference in both physical and mental health. A while back I wrote about using behavioural science to support the adoption of a yoga habit. With autumn well and truly here, I think it’s time to revisit and look at what behavioural science can teach us about adopting self-care habits.

The simplest way to think about it is this

If you want to adopt a new behaviour, you must remove any barriers to adopt the behaviour and amplify any benefits (which might include benefits you are aware of already or benefits you start experiencing as you adopt the new behaviour).

Let’s make this a little more tangible

Say that, like me, you want to (re-)start a regular (or daily) meditation or breathing practice. Some things to consider would be:

Remove any barriers in your current knowledge and skills: Learning more about breathing meditation itself is unlikely to help you, but what might be useful is to try out different styles to find one that resonates or you enjoy more, or use an app or online community to make it easier (see below). This will also tackle any beliefs like “this stuff isn’t for me” etc etc.

Reinforce the benefits: Rewarding yourself with a chocolate bar might not be the way forward here, so instead, as stated above, find a practice that resonates to help it stick more easily. You may also want to consider writing down in your journal (or an app equivalent) how you feel after practice and for the rest of the day as way to really recognise the benefits.

Make it easy: If you find practicing on your own challenging, use an app or find an online community to practice with – an app is the simplest, easiest way of practicing as you can do it any place and at any time. I believed that as someone who leads meditations and breathing practices, I should be doing this without support, but we can all do with someone else guiding us. So I started using Headspace more as well as the Breathing app to cue coherent breathing (it can cue any breath pattern you like, I just prefer coherent breathing). I don’t always use an app but I know that I can if I don’t feel like guiding myself.

Make it brainless: Create associations with behaviours you already have so that you automatically start your meditation or breathing practice at the same time every day – the associations basically prime you to start your behaviour. I have to have two coffees every morning (and if I don’t, you don’t want to encounter me). I’ve tagged on my journalling (morning pages) onto my second coffee and meditation straight after that. Yes, the whole thing takes over an hour and yes I do sometimes have to wake up a lot earlier than other to accommodate this, but I need my routine.

Hang out with more people who practice: Yes, peer pressure is real. When you are surrounded by people who regularly practice, the social norms change, which can help with adopting new behaviours. This is where a meditation community could be really helpful.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been terrible with self-care recently, so I really need to make this my focus over the next few months (alongside eating more healthily, practice more yoga and writing more). Let’s see if, for a change, I can practice what I preach and use my behavioural science knowledge to take better care of myself.

What self-care behaviour would you like to adopt and what has helped you in the past to stick to it?

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