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How Building Habits Makes Space for Well-Being

Guest author Dr. Deb Friesen is an Internal Medicine physician and Kaiser Permanente Physician Advisor. She is the host of the Kaiser Permanente podcast Health Views with Deb Friesen, MD.

As we welcome 2024 and the halfway point of the school year, many of us are thinking about what we’d like the new year to look like. For many educators, this likely includes making changes to feel less stressed or burnt out.

One way to do that is through building new habits.

Although building new habits may sound like one more thing on your never-ending to-do list, it can actually be a way to do less. Building new habits can free up some mental space, leading to feeling lighter and more satisfied at work and at home.

The first step is to think of one small change you’d like to make. A small change should be simple and easy to complete.

Think about a simple behavior that, if done consistently, would make things better for you. Maybe it’s drinking more water, taking a 5-minute stretch break every day, or finding moments to practice gratitude.

Then follow a simple science-backed formula for change called implementation intention, a self-regulation strategy that transitions a goal into action. Here’s my example: “When I go to the kitchen for hot water, then I will do 5 counter-top push-ups and tell myself ‘Good for me!’” 

Here’s an example educators can try: “When the school bell rings, I will take 3 deep breaths before I open the door and smile gratefully as everyone exits for the day.”

This is how it works:

When I _______________ (do this well-established behavior), then I will ________________ (do this new behavior + celebrate the new behavior).

Rehearsing and celebrating the behavior helps cement it into our minds.

Remember that to successfully build new habits you need to start small. If it doesn’t take the first time, make the changes even smaller. (We actually scare our brains when we take on big changes, so be kind to yourself.)

Only you know what will feel like a win for you. So, start small and start now. You can feel better for yourself, for your family, and for your school community and students.

Recommended Resources:

  • Podcast “Thriving with Healthy Choices: Vibrant Living,” Health Views with Deb Friesen, MD on Apple Podcasts, December 20, 2023.
  • “Booster Shot: How to Prevent Burnout!” Webinar,, accessed January 12, 2024.
  • James Clear, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results : An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018.
  • BJ Fogg, Tiny Habits : The Small Changes that Change Everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcout, 2019.
  • Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit, Random House Books, 2013.


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