Yes, this again. I know keep talking about creating and maintaining healthy habits so we can achieve our goal of becoming stronger and healthier in general, and get to age like a fine wine.
So I thought we could dive into what are habits and how we can build them, as well as some strategies we can use to make sure we keep them.
.In the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, one of the most effective tools at our disposal is the power of habits.
Habits shape our daily lives, influencing our choices, actions, and overall well-being.
Habits are automatic behaviors that have become deeply ingrained through repetition. They are actions we perform without much conscious thought, often triggered by specific cues or situations.
They can be beneficial or detrimental, and by consciously shaping them, we can pave the way for positive change.
So, where do we start? We need to understand The Habit Loop (defined by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits)
The habit loop consists of 4 components:
a. Cue: This is the trigger that initiates the habit. It can be an event, an emotion, a time of day, or any other external or internal factor that prompts the habit.
b. Craving: the motivational force behind every habit. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers.
c. Response: the actual behavior or action that constitutes the habit. It can be as simple as going for a run, choosing a healthy snack, or practicing mindfulness exercises.
d. Reward: The reward is the positive reinforcement we associate with completing the habit. It can be the sense of accomplishment, improved well-being, or even a small treat we give ourselves.
"The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop that ultimately allows you to create atomic habits."
Having an understanding of how habits are formed by looking at the habit loop, we can now start to look into and implement some strategies to incorporate new habits.
To create a new habit, we need to look at each stage of the habit loop and make a change where needed.
For example, if our goal is to start exercising twice a week, we could use a time-based cue to trigger this habit.
We can add it to our calendar, or set an alarm on our phone indicating that we will exercise Monday and Wednesday at 9am, for instance.
The calendar notification or the alarm ringing will be our cue to perform that habit.
"The key to choosing a successful cue is to pick a trigger that is very specific and immediately actionable"
You can use cues based on time, location, a preceding event or an emotional state. Read more about that here.
You could also choose to change the way you respond to a trigger. Though this one is a bit more complex. For example, a very tight deadline has you stressing more than normal and you need to find a way to relieve that stress. You know that eating a piece of cake usually calms your nerves. So the stress triggers a craving for cake. You can respond by eating the cake and feeling calmer afterwards, or you can find a different response that will bring the same reward but will also contribute to your goal of becoming a healthier person.
This one is all about trial and error.
One day you may choose to try to go for a walk instead. If you still want the cake after the walk, you may as well eat it. But next time you get the craving, you can choose another response, like a few minutes of meditation or petting your cat. Once you find the response that brings you the reward you are looking for, then you will be able to replace a habit for another and continue on your journey to a healthier you.
But the habit loop is only one side of the coin. To ensure we can create and maintain the habits we want, we can use other simpler strategies:
a. Start Small: Begin by focusing on one or two habits at a time. Trying to change too much at once can be overwhelming and unsustainable. Gradually introduce new habits as the initial ones become more established.
b. Set Specific Goals: Define clear and achievable goals related to your desired healthy habits. For example, instead of saying, "I want to exercise more," specify, "I will walk for 30 minutes every morning before work."
c. Identify Triggers and Replace Routines: Pay attention to the cues that trigger unhealthy habits and consciously replace them with positive alternatives. For instance, if stress prompts you to reach for unhealthy snacks, try engaging in deep breathing exercises or going for a walk when you feel stressed.
d. Track and Monitor Progress: Keep a habit tracker or journal to monitor your progress. This will help you stay accountable and motivated. Celebrate small victories along the way to reinforce positive behaviors.
e. Find Support: Surround yourself with a supportive community or find an accountability partner who shares your goals. Having someone to share your journey with can provide encouragement, advice and motivation.
Whenever you want to change your behavior, you can simply ask yourself:
Be Kind to Yourself: Habits take time to form, and setbacks are natural. Instead of getting discouraged by occasional slip-ups, view them as learning opportunities and recommit to your goals.