We all have habits – some good and some not so good. Every year thousands of people make New Year’s resolutions, often vowing to start new habits or end old ones. And many of these are health related. A majority of these resolutions are broken. So what does it take to end old or create new habits?
To better understand how to break an old habit, let’s examine the habit of eating sugary or fatty snacks during the evening.
Step 1: Identify the cue, the behavior, and the reward that perpetuates the habit. The cue may be a television commercial, or your partner eating cookies or chips in front of you. The behavior is you eating the snack. The reward is how much you enjoyed the snack. You repeat this behavior again and again; the behavior becomes habitual.
Step 2: Change your behavior in response to the cue. You’re watching television and an ice cream commercial comes on. Instead of eating ice cream, try doing something that will provide the increased dopamine levels you get when eating ice cream. You want to replace the behavior (eating sugary or fatty snacks) triggered by the cue (commercial or partner eating snack) to a behavior (romantic walk) that gives the same reward (increased dopamine levels).
Let’s now look at creating new habits.
Step 1: You more than like have heard this step before – set goals. Many times we set goals that are too big and overwhelming. Break a big goal into smaller, more manageable outcomes. For example, you want to lose 50 pounds. Break this down to the smaller goal of losing 5 pounds your first month.
Step 2: Next, identify motivational factors. What motivates you to lose that 50 pounds? Is it a sense of accomplishment or maybe you’ll feel more confident?
Step 3: Pick a goal-oriented behavior. This means you choose the behavior you want to make a habit in order to lose the 50 pounds. For example, walk and track 10,000 steps per day. Pick one behavior to start with. There is a better chance of success if you concentrate on one habit at a time.
Step 4: Create the cue and the reward. What trigger will help you make walking 10,000 steps each day a habit? Maybe it’s a journal to track your steps. Or keep a pair of tennis shoes at your desk so you can walk during breaks and lunch. How ill you reward yourself if you get the 10,000 steps in each day? Is the accomplishment in itself reward enough or does something such as a glass or wine motivate you? Determine what works best but try and make it a healthy reward.
Step 5: Eliminate disruptors. It’s easy to come up with excuses for not accomplishing a new behavior. You want to identify disruptors and have a plan before they occur. Maybe you work late quite often and can’t get your steps in. Keeping a pair of walking shoes in your car or at your desk will provide you the cues to fit the steps in earlier in the day, during breaks and lunch. Getting up earlier on those days and walking before you head out for the day is also an option. It’s important to plan ahead to eliminate these disruptors.
Finally, maybe you need professional help with establishing a new habit. Engaging a health coach could provide you the support you need. A health coach can help you with each of these steps and the encouragement.