Bad habits are usually easy to form: eating junk food, staying up too late at night, or giving in to stress are all habits that are quick to adopt, and very tough to drop. (Think of all those New Year’s resolutions that are gathering dust on your to-do-list.) Forming new habits that are good for us takes a bit more work.
But by making a conscious effort to retrain ourselves into new patterns, we can make good habits more automatic, according to integrative medicine expert Deepak Chopra. “Once your mind begins to pay attention, your brain can build new neural pathways to reinforce what you learn,” Chopra says. In other words, if we get used to new, good habits, like eating better lunches, we’ll feel bad if we don’t stick with them. And that’s a good thing.
To help employees adopt good habits, it’s important to share ideas that they can put into place during the workday, when they have many opportunities to take small steps that build lifelong healthy habits.
1. A cue, a routine, and a reward.
These are the three steps needed to create good habits, according to The New York Times. Citing a New Mexico State University study, the Times notes that while people may get motivated to start a new habit like exercising or eating better, they need cues (putting on running shoes in the morning), routines (running at the same time of the day), and rewards (a good piece of chocolate after a run). Once the cues and the routines become habit, we can get to the point where we don’t need the reward, since the endorphins we generate from exercise (or the way we feel after a healthy and energizing lunch) will be their own reward. Grokker rewards users with “Wellness Minutes” based on how many videos they watch, giving them an incentive to improve their health.
2. Think S.M.A.R.T. goals for forming new habits.
Forming new habits around a big picture – like lowering your blood pressure or deciding to eat healthy foods – can be a little too high-level. It’s more effective to choose smaller or well-defined goals for creating new habits. This is where the S.M.A.R.T. acronym comes in: goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. For example, more realistic new habits could include not adding salt to meals, exchanging sugary sodas for sparkling water, or using the stairs instead of the elevator.
Your own goals for employee wellness can also follow the S.M.A.R.T. approach: Instead of setting a high bar for getting all employees to eat healthier lunches, decide on a more realistic goal, like sharing three easy lunch recipes every month with employees. “Taking small actions tricks your brain,” reports Lifehacker. “Your subconscious likes to be in control – it doesn't like change. A big change often sets up subconscious resistance, but you can sneak a small change by it.” The small-steps approach is built into Grokker, encouraging employees to track their progress and see results over time.
3. Be prepared.
As with many things in life, having the right supplies on hand is half the battle when trying to form new habits. This is where HR teams can help, particularly when the desired new habit in healthier eating. Stock break rooms with alternatives to sugary drinks and salty snacks; provide extra space where employees can prepare food they bring from home, along with plates, utensils, and extra fridge space; and ask meeting coordinators to bring healthier snacks to conference rooms.
For employees seeking to build the habit of exercising more during the day (or at least not sitting for long stretches), your HR team can offer organized stretching breaks or encourage lunchtime walks around the neighborhood or office park (this way, you’re offering the routine that’s valuable for forming good habits).
When you’re trying to help employees form healthy habits, it’s also important to lead by example. To help employees develop the habit of moving around and stretching (instead of sitting at their desks for hours), SurveyMonkey streamed Grokker’s stretching videos in its cafeteria every Friday – and CEO Zander Lurie led the first break to encourage employees to take part.
Want to learn more about helping employees adopt healthy habits? Watch the new Grokker webinar featuring our CEO, Lorna Borenstein, and stories from Google on balancing work with well-being.