Building Healthy Habits with Positive Peers

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Anything we do for the first time is hard (looking at you, parallel parking 🚗 🚗 ). But after we try and try again, we get better, and habits start to form. Checking for a person or another driver over our shoulder before parking? It soon becomes second nature! Before you know it, you’ve established a habit for life! 🥳

So, how do we use this awesome power for good? One of the most important things about living with HIV is staying undetectable. U=U, and that means regularly taking medication, but sticking to your HIV medication as prescribed, on the dot, can be a big source of stress. It’s also a pretty tough habit to build, but when you get there, it should be a huge burden off your shoulders. 👏🏾

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Let’s take a look at how we use tools like the Positive Peers app to help you establish healthy habits like taking medication regularly. 

Creating healthy habits

Before we get too deep into this, we should make sure we’re taking the right approach. 

You’re probably used to seeing the gym filled to the brim the day after New Year’s, and then that activity tapers off by the time February rolls around. What happened? Well, building healthy habits requires you to set yourself up for success. That means:

  • Starting small 🤏: Big behavior changes require an equal amount of effort. We want to start small to ensure success. Begin with a minor change to your daily routine. Just start with your medication, then start making small changes to your lifestyle. Exercise can start with a walk a day, not four hours at the gym. And it’s never a bad idea to check with your doctor before jumping into weight lifting or competitive sports!

  • Keep it easy 🌴: There are so many possible deterrents to establishing a healthy habit, such as an unpacked gym bag in the morning. Take a few minutes to set up for success. For example, keep a stock of essentials (like medications) in reach.

  • Stacking habits 📚: Tie your habit into an existing one. If you take your medication around a meal, pair it with the meal. Morning routines are the strongest ones to establish and keep, so think about breakfast as a great time to kickstart a new habit.

  • Every day ⏱️: The best way to form a new habit is to do it every day. Research shows that forming a new habit can take between 18 to 254 days, so don’t be discouraged if it remains a struggle for a long period of time. The crucial thing is to stick with it, because it will pay off.

  • Treat yourself 🍫: We should try to not make our habits feel like chores. Audiobooks at the gym, snacks with medication, and words of affirmation can go a long way.


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Tracking our habits

Now that we know how to approach building a habit, how do we measure it? 📏 Well, a habit tracker is one of the simplest ways to make sure you are keeping up with your schedule. 

The most basic format is obviously a calendar 📅, where you can simply cross off each day you stuck with your routine. As time goes by and you tick off the days you went for a walk, meditated 🧘, called your friend, or took your medication, you create an amazing record of your habit streak! 

Basically, habit tracking is super powerful because it:

  • Reminds you to act with a visual clue (so put the calendar where you can see it!)

  • Motivates you by showing the amazing progress you’re making

  • Rewards you with that all-too-satisfying checked-off list, every time you stick to a habit

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Using the Positive Peers Wellness Tracker

One amazing feature of the Positive Peers App is the Wellness Tracker, ready to keep track of every helpful habit that makes up your day. We approach this with three categories that you can build up points in: Body, Mind, and Spirit. 🤔

The tracker’s Body category 💪🏾 covers lots of things-- we’re trying to encourage you to eat a healthy diet, exercise on the regular, and make sure you’re checking in with your doctor. But that’s not the number one priority. No, we’re focused on U=U, and staying there! This means meds are a must, every day, which is easy to set up a reminder for! Just use the medication reminder and make it pop up at the time you take your meds, every day.

Just as we take care of our body, we should also take care of our Mind 🧠. If you read a blog article in the app, you’ll automatically earn a Mind point. Wellness of the Mind isn’t just about learning something new though, it can also be about mindset. Our thoughts try to keep us engaged, but we’re all susceptible to negativity. Instead, we can track our positive thoughts, gratitude, being present and joyful in the moment, and a thirst for new knowledge. Then, just as we need sleep, the brain also needs time to think and work through what we’ve learned. That kind of reflecting is a great way to keep stress and worry at bay, and it can take many forms, such as:

  • Reading one page of your book

  • Meditating for one minute

  • Playing an instrument for one minute

  • Taking a short walk

  • Spending time in a garden

  • Journaling one sentence

  • Noting one thing you are grateful for

The last category is Spirit 🌟, which refers to making your own meaning of everyday life! Commonly, this is through being part of a community. We’re social creatures; sharing ourselves with others is so important. The tracker gives you an automatic point if you share something in the Community Forum on the Positive Peers App or reply to somebody’s else’s post. If that’s not your thing, you can give yourself a point for, say, calling a friend, attending a support group or twelve step meeting, or going to a yoga class. Your community is wherever you find it, and we hope the Positive Peers App can be a place of community for you!

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Learn more about caring for your Body, Mind, and Spirit in this blog.

Keeping up your habits

Using the Positive Peers Wellness Tracker can be loads of fun, building up your Body, Mind, and Spirit points! Here’s some tips to help you earn some last-minute points on the Wellness Tracker, if you need them:

  • Mind: Quickly read a blog post, or keep a journal next to your bed, so you can write down what you’re grateful for that day.

  • Spirit: Login to the forum and slap a heart on someone’s post (yes, it’s that easy!). You’re not only helping yourself, but also helping your community. Otherwise, text a loved one a quick 💗 emoji or a silly meme you saw-- it all helps!

Sticking to the Wellness Tracker notifications and ticking off accomplishments before you go to bed goes a long way, establishing those healthy habits you’re tracking. We know you’ve got this. Good luck! 🎉

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