(Some habits (not these) are the best thing you can do for your health.)Over the past 2 weeks, I discussed why habits are so critical to achieving optimal health (or whatever health goal you’re aiming for) and how to enjoy building them.
Even though most health experts don’t talk very often about habits, the things I’ve said so far are pretty obvious.
Most people readily admit that it’s their inability to make good choices and decisions that hamstrings all of their diet and exercise programs.
If you recall, I defined a healthy habit as an automatic behavior that allows a person to avoid needing to make a decision.
I still stand by that definition, but we need to add a couple things.
Habits can actually be broken down into 3 parts, and all habits follow this pattern.
)Not This Kind of Cue…)The first part of a habit is a Cue (sometimes called a “trigger”). A cue is something that initiates a habit.
A cue can be pretty much anything – a time of day, an event, or an object. For instance, in terms of a bad habit, if you have potato chips in your house, simply seeing the chips may be a cue that causes you to automatically eat some. The sight of the chips triggers a reaction in your brain that sets the stage for a particular behavior (eating the chips).
It’s possible, of course, to occasionally resist the automatic behavior caused by the cue. However, resisting actually takes conscious effort and willpower, whereas eating the chips would require no thought at all.
Everyone’s cuesare different, and we all have triggers for a variety of behaviors, good and bad.
In addition to cues, habits also have…
If the cue initiates the habitual behavior, then the reward ends it. The reward is essentially the reason that our brains form habits.
In the research on habits, there is no more important aspect than the reward, since it’s the part of the habit that actually changes our brain chemistry and keeps us coming back for more
In terms of eating the potato chips, the reward would most likely be the enjoyment of the flavor and the accompanying endorphin release.
Rewards can also be pretty much anything, including feeling better, receiving praise, or getting a sense of achievement, but if you really want to make a habit permanent, you’ve got to put some sort of reward in place.
These 3 parts make up all habits:
Cue –> Behavior –> Reward
This is a very useful way to think about habits because it allows you to understand why you automatically take many of the actions that you do. And once you understand the cues and rewards for those behaviors, it becomes possible to create new behaviors or even to change existing ones.
In terms of health, there’s nothing more important than creating new habits. – Click to Tweet
Contrary to the opinion of many health professionals, you are not a complete idiot who just doesn’t know what’s healthy or unhealthy for you. What you probably haven’t been taught is the process of creating and changing habits.
Once you’re able to consistently establish new habits, you can change your health and your lives on an ongoing basis, rather than simply dieting for 2 weeks at a time.
Next week, I’ll be putting up a more comprehensive, step-by-step guide to changing a habit.
But, if you haven’t thought much about habits before, then please use this opportunity to identify just one unhealthy habit that you have. Think about something that you do without thinking that is not healthy for you.
Once you’ve got one habit in mind, identify what the cue and reward for that action are. Often, identifying the cue can require observing your behavior for a few days and even taking notes on what happened just before you took that action each time.
After you’ve done all of this, please leave in the comments below a description of your bad habit and the cue that causes it.