Have you ever tried to drink more water or stop eating fast food, but not been able to sustain the habit? Is there some idea of yourself that you would like to change in either the way you act or react or possibly try and achieve in your day to day life that never seems to quite work out? Well you’re not alone, and it seems that this area of self-improvement has been getting a lot of attention in the last few years.
Anatomy of Habit
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that a habit is more than just a repetitive behaviour, but rather a construction of three sequential components that make up the habit loop: the cue, the behaviour and the reward.
The Cue is an environmental or internal trigger that provokes us to learn a behaviour. An example of an environmental trigger is placing a foam roller next to your shoes, which triggers you to do self-massage prior to running. Hunger pangs cue you to eat. Internal cues related to mood. For some people, for instance, depression triggers the urge to eat ice cream.
The Behaviour is the actual routine we commonly associate with the habit. This learned behaviour occurs automatically, free from a specific goal. It may be as simple as always tying the right shoe before the left.
The reward makes behaviour stick. The “high” runners feel after a 5 km Run is enough to make them want to repeat the experience. Even though smokers know how lighting up isn’t good for them they still get an immediate blast of endorphins the moment they inhale.
Establishing New Habits
The following is a quick look at creating new habits using the habit loop. Consider working with a certified coach, life coach, Kinesiologist or mentor to help you strategize and reinforce these habits.
Step 1: Establish goals and milestones.
It is a common belief that habits take 21 days to form, this is not 100% true. Habit formation varies greatly from person to person, and habit to habit, and can take 66 days or longer to establish as a habit (Gardner, Lally & Wardle 2012). It’s a Long process that requires consistent implementation. If you have and ambitious goal like losing 20 kilograms, it’s important to chunk it into smaller, less daunting and more realistic outcomes. For example, instead of focusing on losing 20 kg, a good milestone might be 2.5kg in the first month.
Step 2: Identify motivational factors.
Internal (Intrinsic) motivation involves doing activity for the inherent satisfaction or feeling rather than for a separable consequence or reward. It may be intrinsically important for you to lose weight for a sense of accomplishment, to improve self-confidence or to accelerate your career. It has been shown even in children that Intrinsic motivation is long-lasting compared to an external motivator.
Step 3: Pick a goal-oriented behaviour.
While it might seem appealing to make a lot of changes at once, focusing on one habit at a time may lead to greater success (Gardner, Lally & Wardle 2012). Consider different goal-oriented habits and then pick one. For example, if you want to lose weight, you could choose from one of these two behaviours:
- Drink 2 cups of water before every meal. Not only may help with satiety, but it’s calorie free, and proper hydration may aid in fat loss and overall well-being.
- Walk and track 10,000 steps a day. Evidence suggest that regular, “incidental” physical activity is effective for weight loss and overall health.
Step 4: Create the cue and reward.
Once you’ve selected a behaviour, choose a cue that will trigger it. For example, if you opt to drink 2 cups of water before every meal, consider setting a reminder alarm or keeping a glass/jug of water near where you make food. Then select a reward to reinforce the behaviour. This can be a little harder, especially if the goal is to lose weight and you may want to reward yourself with food or drinks like alcohol. This is an area a Coach can help look for other alternatives to the reward phase.
Step 5: Eliminate disruptors or hurdles.
You may use disruptors or hurdles as excuses for not accomplishing a new behaviour. If you can identify these early, you can overcome pitfalls before they occur. For example, if not having water readily available disrupts the behaviour of drinking 2 cups of water before every meal, purchase a water bottle that’s easy to fill and transport.
Step 6: Follow up.
Hold yourself accountable to new behaviours. Don’t beat yourself over failures though, look at them as attempts and find ways to reinforce the behaviour with either better triggers, rewards or smaller goals/milestones. Again Working with a Coach, Life Coach, Kinesiologist, Counsellor or even a friend can help you remain accountable.