How to Change Your Habits

By Kara Simpson, Trainer and Health Coach at Milestone Fitness

A habit is a routine or behavior that is performed regularly and in many cases, automatically. Creating new habits as well as breaking old habits is a process that takes time and practice. Too often people feel that they want to change everything, right now! And if it doesn’t happen easily then forget it. I encourage you to take it slowly and start with small changes. Purposefully implementing strategies to build healthy habits allows you to take the guess work out of what you should be doing by creating a plan.

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Developing new habits forces you to create new routines for what was normally comforting and easy. Having some awareness when it comes to your habits is crucial to understand what your cues/triggers are leading up to your habit. This is part of the cue, routine, reward loop that author Charles Duhigg has gone into detail about in his book The Power of Habits.

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So as pictured above, you likely have the same cue (feeling tired) that occurs before your routine (the habit you’d like to change) which leads to your reward (feeling relaxed). The idea is to change your routine in a way that will give you the same reward. Finding your cue involves becoming aware of your daily patterns and current habits. Once you’ve discovered your cue for a particular habit you’d like to change, then you can being creating a new routine. When trying to create a new habit/routine, making it obvious is the first way to begin developing it. This can be done in two ways:

I will {BEHAVIOR} at {TIME} in {LOCATION}

Or

After {CURRENT HABIT}, I will {NEW HABIT}

 Having a clear plan of how and when you will perform the new habit is crucial to become successful. It’s often times not enough to just say “I’m going to drink more water.” Try implementing the sentence above by making it very obvious when you will perform the task.

If you’re trying to eliminate (not necessarily change or create) a bad habit you’ve formed, then according to James Clear of Atomic Habits, you need to first make it invisible. Reducing exposure to the bad habit and creating an environment that helps you rather than hinders you is how to remove that particular cue. It’s easier to avoid temptation than it is to resist it (out of sight, out of mind). “’Disciplined’ people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. They spend less time in tempting situations.” Other steps that Clear suggests when it comes to breaking a bad habit include making it unattractive, make it difficult and make it unsatisfying (I’ll go into those more in detail another time).

If you’re looking to change or create new habits to become more productive or healthy, then here are a few tips for you:

· Make your habit easy enough that you don’t need motivation to do it. The more energy required to do a task, the least likely it will get done. If you have a goal to cook a healthy meal every night of the week, you may be motivated the first night or two. But what happens when the food runs out and you have to go to the grocery store mid week? Or when nobody likes your cooking? How much energy will you need to get to the store, find new recipes the family will like and then get the energy to cook the actual meal? The greater the obstacle, the harder it becomes to fulfill. That’s why it’s crucial to make your habit so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it.

· Pair a habit that you need to do with a habit you want to do. This could be that you need to prep lunch but want to check facebook. So, you will check facebook after you prep lunch. It could also be that after I grocery shop I will cut up fresh veggies to snack on for the week. Habit stacking is another tip that Clear uses in his book to help make the habit obvious and attractive.

· Stick to a pace you can maintain. Learning to be patient is an important skill to learn when developing new habits. Like I mentioned earlier, you can’t do all the things to become healthy right away, you will burn out. Stick to a habit change that is suitable for you. It’s not necessarily how long you’ve been doing the habit, but how many times you’ve been doing the habit- keep that in mind. Behaviors become more automatic through repetition

· Believe you can. Having belief in yourself to take deliberate action is important to know that you’re capable. Starting small can help you gain confidence in your ability to change your habits. Visualizing yourself as that person you want to become can be part of your believing. Having a coach or friend help push you to gain confidence can also be helpful in believing you can accomplish your goals.

· Don’t do everything- just do something. This is similar to my nutrition teacher’s philosophy of “always something, not all or nothing.” You don’t have to do all the healthy habits to start achieving your goals. Doing 1 thing a day adds up over weeks, months, and years. According to Clear’s study, If you’re 1% better every day, that means you’ll be 37% better over the year.

· Make it enjoyable. Giving yourself an immediate reward will increase the likelihood that you’ll continue that habit as well as keeping you excited while the bigger goal accumulates. Watching your favorite show after you prepare lunch for the next day, drinking water with fresh fruit in it, saving money for a new outfit when you reduce spending food on take out- these are all ways you can make your habits enjoyable while doing what’s needed. Soon you’ll start to feel intrinsically rewarded with feelings of accomplishment, reduced stress, and more energy by your habits that you won’t need the reward reinforcement.

“Your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be.” -I love this quote because habit change is about becoming the type of person you wish to be. If you strive for more in your life, better health, fulfilling relationships, and a healthy family- then you need to believe you are that person. Creating habits is the way you change your beliefs about yourself to become what you want most.

If you need help with creating healthy, sustainable nutrition habits that will truly make a difference in your health, Kara has 3 one-on-one nutrition coaching spots currently open. Email her at kara@milestonefitness.us for more details.

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