If you don’t like drinking water, but you know the health benefits of it, you may have wondered how you can build a better habit. There are a few ways you train your brain to drink more water. This way, you can learn to drink more water without forcing yourself.
How to Train Your Brain to Drink More Water
Learning how to drink more water and increasing your hydration throughout the day starts with building healthy habits. Starting a new, healthy habit can be difficult. Understanding how habits are made can help you train your brain to drink more water, and start other healthy habits, too.
Can Drinking Water Be a Habit?
According to the The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, men need about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of water and women need about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters). Strangely, though water is a body’s need, it can be difficult to make drinking water into a habit, and this can seem like a huge amount for those who don’t like drinking water.
How are habits formed? There are several theories about how habits form in our minds. Some habits are automatic, such as turning on a light when you enter a dark room. Other habits require a bit more action and intention, but a routine makes them easier to accomplish, such as a regular exercise routine. Learning how to drink more water falls somewhere in between these two types of habits; it’s not small enough to be automatic, but not complex enough to engage problem-solving parts of your brain. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a few tips to help train your brain to drink more water.
Make it Easy
One of the best ways to start a new habit is to make it as easy as possible. If your new habit requires a lot of effort and planning, it will be even more difficult. You probably have some obstacles to drinking more water as it is; you might not like the taste, or prefer other beverages. So, make drinking more water as easy as possible right from the start. This might include:
- Refill a variety of water bottles and place them throughout your home or workplace
- Keep some plastic water bottles on hand in the fridge
- Know where you can refill your water bottle at home or at work
- Keeping a large pitcher of water filled so you can refill your water bottles at any time
Refill your water bottles on the go at an ice and water vending machine
Use the ICE2U app to find a machine near you >
One way our brains create new habits and behaviors is through dopamine. Dopamine plays a key role in turning a behavior into a habit. Though the brain activity at work is somewhat complex, dopamine essentially tells the brain that an activity feels good or provides a good result for the body, so it becomes increasingly automatic with repetition.
One way you can take advantage of this brain chemistry and train your brain to drink more water is to associate drinking water with rewards. These rewards don’t have to be huge. They might be as simple as giving yourself a compliment, taking a five minute break, or indulging in a chocolate when you finish a bottle of water. Or, you might drink more water when you’re doing an activity you enjoy, such as taking a walk or playing a video game. These rewards and positive associations will create subconscious, positive associations in your brain, and these will become stronger with more repetition. Before too long, you might realize that you like water more than you used to.
You may have heard of SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based. The SMART goal theory states that goals are more likely to be fulfilled when they have these attributes. Applying SMART goal theory to train your brain to drink more water might look like this:
- Specific: Instead of simply saying “I want to drink more water,” set a specific goal, such as drinking one bottle of water a day.
- Measurable: You should have a way to measure your progress. As you drink more water, write it down in a journal or even a sticky note to show you’re moving towards your goal.
- Achievable: Setting your goal too high will set you up for frustration. Make your goal challenging, but attainable. Consider how much water you normally drink a day and how much actually makes sense to add.
- Relevant: Why do you want to drink more water? Doing a bit of research about the health impacts of drinking more water will make it more relevant, and help you clearly see why you want to reach your goal.
- Time-Based: Your specific goal, stated above, should include a time frame. It can be helpful to set short term (“today I’ll have another glass of water”), mid-term (“by the end of the month, I want to add a bottle of water a day to my schedule”) and long-term (“by the end of the year, I want to have my hydration needs met”) goals.
For some people, recording their progress and setting measurable goals helps them stay on track. For others, this process can be stressful. If you find yourself over-thinking or stressing about how much water you’re drinking, this method might not be helpful for your brain. All of us—and all of our brains—are similar, but unique. Working with your brain’s natural rhythms instead of forcing your brain to do something is the best way to start healthy habits.
To learn how to drink more water, it’s important to make drinking water very easy and accessible, but it’s also important to remove temptations or obstacles. When you identify persistent obstacles to your new habit, you can work around them, instead of fighting them each day.
If you often find yourself drinking soda or juice instead of water, try not to buy these things at the store. If your water at home tastes funny and it’s not enjoyable to drink, try a water filter, filling up a container at a water vending machine, or using flavoring. If a particular routine makes you want to drink soda, such as getting fast food for lunch, or makes it harder to drink water, such as long travel times at work, consider how you might adjust these routines to help your new water-drinking habit.
Consider how you can make your obstacles or temptations:
- Less visible: Put your juice or soda at the back of your fridge, so it doesn’t stand out as the go-to beverage.
- More difficult: Don’t buy soda or juice when you go to the store. If you’re really craving these drinks, you’ll have to make an extra trip.
- Less satisfying: Instead of focusing on the taste of sugary soda or juice, consider the health impact. An indulgence once in a while is okay, but regularly consuming so much sugar isn’t good for your body.
Alter Your Environment
Making small environmental changes can help you train your brain to drink more water without even thinking about it. This strategy is commonly used at a city- or society-wide level to encourage larger populations to start healthy habits or drop unhealthy ones. For example, some cities have designated smoking areas, and smokers will be fined for smoking outside these areas. This makes an unhealthy habit more difficult by using environmental changes.
You can apply this principle to your own life by making alterations to your environment. Consider the following:
- Larger containers: If you have to refill a small glass every hour or so, it becomes a chore. Get some larger glasses or refillable water bottles instead.
- Water everywhere: Place filled, sealed water bottles all over your environment; your refrigerator, desk, car, living room, bedroom, and anywhere you spend time.
- Visibility: Place a water pitcher on the counter, instead of in the fridge. Your water won’t be cold, but it will always be visible, and you won’t be tempted by other options.
The central part about training your brain to drink more water—or starting any healthy habit—is to work with your brain, not against it. Some of these strategies may work for you and some may not. Take note of your thought processes and habits throughout the day; what makes you happy? What is automatic for you? What makes you stressed? Consider how you can use these thought processes to make healthy habits easier, instead of relying on willpower alone.