We as a society find it easy to get caught up in the desire to make massive changes in life. Our nightly programming provides us entertainment and often misguided inspiration as we watch incredible weight loss transformations and think that it’s healthy and realistic to lose 30 pounds in the 3 weeks. Watching the Olympics might inspire you back to a sport you love or to hitting your exercise program with more enthusiasm than before and that can be great motivation. However, it is very important to remember that lasting change is a product of daily habits, not once–in–a–lifetime transformations. The key would be to change your habits to help you produce those results you seek.
Before we get into how to change a habit or replace a current habit you have with one that yields you better results, let’s address what is good about having habits in the first place.
- We need habits to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the details of life, in a way they can protect us.
- Over a period of time and repetition, the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine- having a habit can make life easier.
- Habits help the brain conserve energy, and who doesn’t love that?
If you are at a place in life where your current habits are not supporting your goals, consider taking some time to change those habits. If you are someone who can identify multiple habits that you would like to change, I would recommend you start with one at a time. Once you have successfully integrated your new habit into your life, you will feel more confident and even excited about changing the next one.
- Identify the routine.
- What’s the trigger or cue?
- What’s the reward?
- Make a plan
- Find a team
Let’s take a closer look at these 5 steps.
1. Identify the routine: What is the behavior you want to change? Is it night eating? Are you choosing heavy foods? Are you stress eating? Do you procrastinate? Do you have impulsive behavior? Are you overworking or obsessing? What is the routine you most want to change? Write it down.
2. What’s the trigger or cue? What time is it? Where are you? Place, activity or event? Who else is around? What did you just do? Did something happen immediately preceding the routine? I.e. did you see or smell food? What emotions, thoughts, or physical sensations are you experiencing? One of these things is the cue. Look for which one stays the same every time you feel the urge-write it down.
3. What’s the reward? Habitual behaviors are driven by cravings for rewards or avoidance of negative consequences. What craving do you think your behavior is satisfying: the taste of a cookie, a change of scenery, temporary distraction/avoidance or socializing? Do you get a burst of energy from sugar? Comfort? Feeling in control? Stimulation? Relaxation? Safety? Find the answer that feels the most accurate and write it down. To figure out which cravings are driving a particular habit, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. As you test each reward, jot down the first three things that come to mind. Set an alarm for 15 minutes. Has the craving lessened in intensity or stayed the same? Keep experimenting until you find something new that satisfies the urge.
4. Make a plan: Studies show that the easiest way to implement a new habit is to write a plan. For example: When _(cue)_, I will _(routine)_ because it provides me with __(reward)__. Post this plan where you will see it. Try it for a week. Be aware of how it feels. When the intrinsic reward of a behavior (what you feel from doing it) is stronger than the extrinsic (what you treat yourself with afterwards), you’ve got a strong habit.
5. Find a team: Create a support system of people who are on the same path as you are or who have the habits you aspire to develop. People tend to associate with people who act like them Belief in your ability to make changes often comes faster to those who get bolstered by their social groups and see others like them making the changes they want to see in themselves. A strong community can also help make changes stick. State your goals out loud to make yourself accountable. Let others know when you are struggling with an urge. It helps you get out of denial and makes it real.
We need to continually and consciously practice new behaviors for them to become habits (automatic) to overpower old habits. Believe in your ability to change- if I can do it, so can you! Would love to hear from you below in the comments section. If you found this article helpful, please share it! Also sign in at Power Over Food for more helpful tools for your mind, body and health.