How many of you have had a hard time kicking a bad habit? Have you wondered why it is so difficult for you to change?
Well, have you taken time to consider all the good habits you practice subconsciously every day and how these can set you up for success? The book “The Power of Habit” tells the story of numerous people who have succeeded by transforming their daily routines. One clear point made in this book is that habits can become so engrained in us that they seem to be a part of who we are and who we identify as. This strong connection can be very hard to change, and at times it serves as a double-edged sword, leading you down either a path of mastery or one of frustration. Though “bad” habits are hard to change, they CAN easily be replaced by establishing new “good” habits.
As a coach, “The Power of Habit” interested me because I have seen firsthand how changing just a few small, daily routines can lead to huge success. As the book states: We are the sum of our daily habits. This means that almost everything we do is subconsciously a habit we formed over time—whether we are aware of it or not. These habits are always present and are hard to change…but I promise they are easier to change if you only focus on replacing them with good habits.
If you are able to find new habits to take the place of a particular addiction that said addiction can become much easier to manage. However, is the temptation still present? Probably, depending on how ingrained the habit has been or the severity of the addiction. BUT it may not be present as often or with the same intensity as you develop and strength new, good habits. So, the bad news is that habits are hard to break, but the good news is that they are easy to break when you create new habits in their place.
The key to this change is to break up large goals into smaller steps. If you attempt to change everything at once there is almost a 100% chance of failure. But if you can break up the goal bit by bit into smaller more manageable habits, it can be much easier to make the necessary changes. Think of starting with one small habit that has almost 100% chance of success. Work on that for a month. If it is successful, that’s great. Then you move on and tackle something else. But if you haven’t found success yet, scale it back a bit and try again. Try to start smaller until the habit sticks, then continue to build on your success.
Focus your energy on keystone habits. A keystone habit is one thing (possibly small and mundane) that can lead to huge improvements. Maybe you are trying to lose more than 100 lbs and the habit you change is tracking your food each day with a journal or app like My Fitness Pal. This small change of tracking your food can help you become more mindful of what you are eating and putting in your body. The result is that you make smarter food choices. You learn more about protein, fat and carbs and how they affect you. You learn to eat whole foods and stay away from items that cause inflammation. You become a better cook, make new friends who support your goals and lifestyle, and lose touch with people who are leading you in another direction. You start a workout program or gain the confidence to start dating again. You find that you no longer lonely and depressed. You get married and start a family, teaching your children the value of taking care of their bodies. All of this could come because you did something as simple as starting a food journal. Have I seen this happen firsthand? Yes, several times! The journal is a wonderful example of a keystone habit that can cause a lot to change over time.
Here’s how you can have similar success. Every habit revolves around a habit loop. This loop contains a cue (whatever stimulates the habit), the habit itself, and the reward that reinforces the habit. For change to occur we have to first be aware of the habit or identify the routine. Maybe your routine is eating a cookie everyday as a snack after lunch. Maybe you want to get away from this since it is causing unwanted weight gain.
After identifying the habit, you will want to experiment with rewards. Why are you eating the cookie? Are you bored? Hungry? Are you low on energy? Stressed? Experiment with different rewards instead of the cookie. Go for a walk. Talk with co-workers. Eat a handful of nuts. Meditate. After you play around with 4-5 other things you find rewarding, write down 3 emotions or feelings that pop in your head. Then set an alarm for 15 minutes and figure out if you still want the cookie. This way you can figure out what you are actually craving and decide if there is a reward that is more suitable for your ideal goal.
Next, you need to identify the cue that is causing the trigger. The 5 categories that every cue will fit into are: location, time, emotion, the people around you, and the action preceding the cue. So you will want to track each of these 5 things for 3-5 days and then look for any pattern. The pattern will show you what is triggering your bad habit, so moving forward you can easily identify this pattern and have a plan of action in place to help you break it.
If you know the habit and what is cueing it and you have a new reward in place, all that is left is making sure you have a plan moving forward.
Maybe for you the trigger happens at the same time every day. Maybe 5 p.m. rolls around and you are done with work, so you go to happy hour with your co-workers. You are drinking a bit more than you wish and it’s costing your wallet and waistline. It’s time to kick that habit of going to the bar. Instead, reward yourself with another form of socialization. The new plan could be joining a training studio or finding a fun, new activity with friends.
It’s time for you to throw out your bad habits. Find yourself something that is constructive instead of destructive, allow yourself to make some necessary changes, and embrace the Power of Habit!