Good habits are the building blocks of a healthy, happy and successful life. Luckily for us, we have more control over our health than many of us would think – and this all comes down to the habits that we choose to adopt.
Habits can be healthy or problematic. They can range from hitting the gym to vegging on the couch; from learning a new language to endless procrastination; from telling ourselves that we’re worthy to beating ourselves up every time we make a mistake.
Before getting into the 6 habits that all men should be performing, let’s take a quick look at the brain-science behind habit formation, using the latest in neuroscientific knowledge to explain the importance of choosing the right habits.
The Importance of Healthy Habits
You know that bad habits are hard to break, right? This is because they are literally hard-wired into the networking of our brains. One of neuroscience’s most exciting findings, however, is that our brains are neuroplastic, which means that they can change. In other words, we can re-structure our brains to encourage good habits. But how?
This is a simple matter of repeating the new habit, over and over. Why? When we perform a habit for the first time, an electrical signal travels along a specific path in our brain. That same neural pathway gets lit up every time we perform that behavior; and it gets forged deeper and deeper into our brain circuitry the more we repeat it.
Once the new habit gradually gets hard-wired into our brain, we’ll be more likely to find ourselves slipping into that same, healthy pattern of behavior automatically, without even thinking about it. So, let’s take a look at 6 habits that you, as a man, should consider including in your daily routine.
1. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
In recent years, mindfulness meditation has become incredibly popular as a way of improving well-being. But unlike many fads that come and go, mindfulness meditation is a really powerful practice grounded in scientific principles and most men can benefit from using it. Mindfulness is a skill that is originally drawn from ancient Buddhist meditation techniques, but in recent decades leading psychologists have studied these techniques and found out that they are incredibly powerful when used as a therapeutic tool.
This has led western mental health professionals to adapt meditation techniques into their therapeutic protocols. So nowadays you can find therapists using methods such as mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy in their clinics.
So, how can you, as a man, benefit from practicing mindfulness? Research has shown that a daily practice of mindfulness meditation can significantly reduce daily stress and improve general well-being. Other research has shown that mindfulness can also help men reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.
Not only that, experts claim that mindfulness meditation can help men overcome psychological erectile dysfunction and performance anxiety. All it takes is practicing for about 10-20 minutes a day for 4 to 8 weeks (you can learn more about this works here). The list of possible benefits goes on and on: from improved focus to increased compassion and relationship satisfaction. If you haven’t tried mindfulness before, now is the time to start!
2. No Technology in Bed
You’ve probably heard this one before, but this is a tip that has some solid science behind it! So, why should you not use phones, tablets or laptops in bed, just before sleep? First, your brain becomes stimulated just at the point when it’s supposed to be calming down. Second, the light from your screen tricks your brain into thinking that it’s daytime, suppressing a hormone called melatonin which would otherwise trigger your sleepy response.
In other words, using technology before sleep makes it harder for your brain to rest properly during the night. Getting enough good quality sleep is important for improving your immune system and keeping your mental functions fresh. Beyond that, healthy sleep is particularly important for men as it increases testosterone levels, which can improve your muscle mass, bone structure, sex drive, facial hair, mood and mental faculties.
Finally, by making a habit of avoiding tech use in bed, you will lower your risk of mild concussion and/or moderate humiliation when your phone slips out of your hands and lands straight on your face.
3. Exercise to Protect Your Mental Health and Sexual Performance
At the risk of sounding like your high-school gym teacher, exercise is good. Very good. It reduces your risk of hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, colon cancer, fatigue and stress. Apart from that, exercise is a powerful mood booster; and while it’s no substitute for psychotherapy or medication, I often suggest exercise as an additional supportive tool for my clients that struggle with depression or anxiety.
What other facts can I throw in your direction to get you moving? This study showed that improved fitness means a more reliable sexual performance, satisfying orgasms, and more frequent intercourse. What’s more, you don’t need to be running marathons: a simple daily walking routine can reduce erectile dysfunction by a staggering 71%; and men doing yoga experienced greater sexual satisfaction, ejaculatory control, and overall desire.
4. Practice Healthy Masturbation (and Avoid Bad Ones)
Ok, so I probably don’t need to spend much time encouraging you to initiate this habit! But jokes aside: masturbation has been framed by religious institutions as the epitome of a bad habit; when it comes to our health, however, the opposite is true.
Scientists say that jerkin the gherkin reduces your risk of prostate cancer and may boost your immune system; and it’s a great way of relieving stress and sexual frustration. Oh, and for those who weren’t aware: it feels damn good!
This is because a bit of self-love releases feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin – the same brain chemicals that become active when you’re using cocaine and ecstasy! That means you’re getting a huge dose of natural pleasure without risking cardiac arrest, addiction, arrest or homicidal drug dealers.
But, there’s a catch: you want to be practicing healthy masturbation habits in order to avoid putting yourself at risk of sexual disorders such as performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction.
5. Watch Less Porn
Did you know that watching porn – especially hardcore and deviant imagery – can put you at risk of developing serious sexual problems? Research has shown that porn use can literally change the structure and functioning of your brain, which is why reducing your porn consumption is a habit that you should seriously consider adopting.
Porn has a stimulating effect on our brains and bodies – if it didn’t, the porn industry wouldn’t be worth what it is today. What this means, however, is that you’re likely to develop addictive behavior, where you’re watching porn more often and tapping into increasingly freaky and exciting content just to get that same sense of arousal.
Then, guess what happens when you’re having sex with another human, who probably isn’t going to be behaving like a deviant porn star? You’ll struggle to be aroused, because your brain has been desensitized to normal sexual encounters. As a result, you may become dependent on porn to get an erection – a phenomenon known as porn-induced erectile dysfunction. Porn use could also lead to performance anxiety, which in turn could hurt your ability to get an erection. The good news is, that in most cases, all you have to do is to cut back on the porn.
6. Work Through Your Unpleasant Emotions
We live in a culture where men are expected to toughen up and keep on keeping on, regardless of the difficult emotional experiences that we might be carrying. But this is a problem. Why? 76% of all suicides are committed by men and we’re also at an increased risk of abusing drugs or alcohol to regulate our emotions.
Furthermore, male violence is a massive problem faced by our society. It’s only by acknowledging and working through our feelings of fear, sadness and anger that we can find a sense of emotional peace. We have a duty to do this, not just to improve our own lives but also the lives of the people around us.
Start by consciously choosing to acknowledge and accept whatever you might be feeling. Model vulnerability by speaking to other men about what you’re going through; and check-in on your mates when it seems like they might be down. When you need to, reach out for support: by not doing this you’re only cheating yourself.
The six good habits that we have listed here barely scratch the surface of what you can do to bring about a healthier, happier you. Nonetheless, if you’re able to implement these 6 foundational habits into your daily routine, you’re likely to see some real benefits. Remember though, that Rome wasn’t built in a day: repetition truly is key if you want to rewire your brain for the better!