You may have every good intention to change some of your lifestyle or eating habits into healthier ones, but fall back to old habits after a while. It’s frustrating to keep spinning your wheels harder and harder just to wind up doing the same thing again. I’ve been there and done that too. I’ve found a strategy that has helped me change some bad habits that I want to share with you.
While it may be challenging to transition to real food because you need to develop new tastes for these new foods, by far the most overwhelming challenge is to change old habits. Period. Changing a lifelong habit requires a new method. In order to get healthier, you need to take control of your old habits and change them. It’s not as hard as it sounds.
It turns out that most of the choices we make every day are not conscious decisions, but rather, habits. Our actions are basically a bunch of patterns that shape every aspect of our lives. The good news is that we CAN change some of those habits to GET HEALTHIER.
Creating a New Habit
The book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a a fascinating read and a good resource for a more in depth explanation for this method.
Essentially, there are three parts to a habit:
- the trigger
- an action
- a response/reward
For example, I go to the gym or do some kind of workout every day. I get up in the morning and the first thing I do (after washing and brushing my teeth) is get right into my workout clothes. For me, that is the trigger. I know I’m going to work out if I’m already dressed for it.
The next thing I do is to I stretch. This is the action that leads into the rest of the workout, whether I get into the car and go to the gym or do something on equipment I have at home, I will be working out.
The reward is the feeling I get after a good workout — calm, relaxed and mentally satisfied that I am doing something that improves my health.
This is a great habit to have — but what if you do not have that habit — but one that is just the opposite? What if you just can’t seem to get yourself to the gym or to exercise? What if you don’t have time or energy?
How can you change your habit of no exercise into one that gets you going?
Make Small Changes and Apply a Trigger
Stop trying for the big changes and go for a small change. Take one day at a time — don’t say “I have to go to the gym every day for an hour.” That will be daunting. Say “today I’m going to the gym for 15 minutes.”
For example, if you want to get going to the gym, change the trigger. Decide on the time of day that is most conducive to exercising for you and make that your trigger. At that time you need to get yourself ready to exercise. You can say, “I’m going to the gym at 8:00 AM today.”
You can gradually introduce this to yourself by just getting into workout clothes and not even going to the gym. The next day. get into your clothes and go to the gym but don’t workout. Do that for a few days. Then, finally, get into your workout clothes, go to the gym and start to workout — you will want to by then and the reward will feel better!
It’s Easier to Change an Existing Habit than to Create and New Habit
It you have a habit you want to change, for example, you want to change your response to cravings — add a pattern break (an interrupt) to stop an action that you no longer want. In this case, every time you want to eat something in response to the craving, you have to do 10 pushups. It can be whatever you choose to do but it has to get your mind off the food and something physical will do that.
You need to create a break between the trigger (the craving or emotional desire for food) and the action (eating the food).
With this method you can successfully make a series of small changes to certain behaviors that you would like to change. The reward will be knowing that you outsmarted the craving.
Keep adding on small healthy habits to change over a period of time with no pressure to change forever. However, if you continue to follow the new changes, you can change your old, bad habits.
Get Rid of Bad Habits
The simple method outlined above will allow you to take an existing habit and change the action that causes the same reward as the bad habit — but allows you want to change that action to something healthy.
Create Consistency and Commitment
By setting small goals, as outlined in the gym example above, you are creating tiny new habits. With all the technology with have today, you can find a way to alert yourself with a specific time that you have to do an action (the gym) and do that every day or every other day. You choose the frequency.
You can also create penalties for yourself if you have someone who you can be accountable to. For instance, you can pay that person money if you do not go to the gym at the times you committed to. Here, you need to define a goal and stick to it, i.e., going to the gym 3 times a week.
In this case the trigger is the time, the action is going to the gym and the reward would be not having to pay the penalty.
This can get you through the first month. The goal is 90 days before you remove the penalty. But you can slowly switch to positive reinforcement. If you miss 3 days in a row, you have to pay.
Peer Influences on Habit
It’s been said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Your peers are a great influence on you so you need to associate with people who will elevate you towards your goals. Create a system so people who do not support you, can’t stop you.
Social justification is a way to get your family and friends on your side — even the ones you are trying to sabotage your efforts.
For example, if you want to avoid all grains and someone is trying to push them on you, you can say, well I can’t have that because I will have to pay $50.00 to “Wendy” because we made a bet. That person will then say, oh OK I don’t want you to have to pay…
This is also a way to sidestep the people who want to put obstacles in your path. You need to stick to your goals when you have people around you who are trying to sabotage your efforts.
It’s possible to alter a habit in a consistent social context, but it’s even easier to change the context by avoiding the people who want to see you fail.
Behavioral conditioning can be used to help control the reward in the habit algorithm. For example, if you are craving a sweet, switch to frozen berries or grapes. These are sweet and will satisfy the need for this type of food.
Small Change Can Become Big Results
The secret to being successful in changing a bad habit is to create movement towards the goal or reward. You may have to take baby steps at first. Create systems that move you towards your goal — then create routines and habits.
Habits don’t feel like work –they just happen. A tiny change to the trigger or action part of the habit algorithm can get you the same reward, but with healthier actions.
Tiny changes can become big results and this is important when breaking a habit.
What changes can you fit into this equation that would make a difference in your health? Leave a comment an let me know!