Human beings are creatures of habit. We get out of bed, shower and brush our teeth without thinking about it. We make our coffee the same way, eat the same thing for breakfast and take the same route to work or school. In fact, research shows that about 40% of our actions and up to 90% of our thoughts are habitual.
A habit is automatic, something we don’t have to think about. But habit formation isn’t just about taking the easy way out; it\’s actually a brilliant neurocognitive strategy that helps our brains manage the vast amounts of information we process every day. Habits free up energy to learn, solve problems and handle daily tasks without overloading our brains.
Understanding the science of building healthy habits is especially important for parents and caregivers of tweens and teens. Habits can either help young people stay healthy or they can stand in the way. “Habits play an important role in our health,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.” Here are four facts you need to know to help your teen build healthy habits:
1. Tiny increments lead to big change.
In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear writes, “Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. Improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable… but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run.” Clear points out that a 1% improvement each day for a year means you’re 37x better by the end of it. And while dramatic actions can be motivating at first, they disrupt our routines and are difficult to maintain. To make healthy habits stick, teens need to know that small, consistent efforts lead to long-term improvement.
2. Habits add up over time.
“The effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them,” says Clear. We may not notice the effects of our daily habits as we’re going through our normal routine. But think about a habit’s cumulative impact over time: spending 5 minutes a day for one year meditating, connecting with others or exercising versus the same 5 minutes doom-scrolling on social media. The big picture can be overwhelming, but we can teach teens that success is about pointing themselves in the direction of their goals and taking small steps until they arrive.
3. It should be easy and feel good to practice self-care.
Stanford researcher and behavior scientist BJ Fogg says that a big part of why we don’t embrace healthy habits is that we think change has to be hard. But in his own experiments, Fogg found that simple, fun changes (like doing two push-ups every time he went to the bathroom) were easy to maintain and made him feel good. That led to more positive habits: “As I accumulated dozens of new habits – mostly tiny ones – they combined to create a transformation. Sustaining all this did not feel hard.” Parents and caregivers can set a precedent for making healthy habits easy by doing self-care together with teens and focusing on goals that are both meaningful and fun.
4. Lucero makes daily healthy habits easy for teens.
Lucero is a youth-driven, therapist-approved gamified wellness app for tweens, teens and their Crew (yes, that means you!) It’s designed to make daily healthy habits simple and fun, because science shows that’s the best way to support teens’ mental health and overall well-being. Lucero features 84+ gamified micro-lessons on topics like self-confidence, 600+ customized self-care activities, and ways for teens to track their progress and stay connected to people who radically support them. It’s a fun and engaging wellness app for practicing emotional regulation and – best of all – it takes just a few minutes a day to spark a lifetime of healthy habits!