“How do I create habits that stick” is one of the most common questions I come across in my coaching. I mean, if it were obvious, we would all have killer abs and fat savings account, right? 😉
You’ll often hear people say things like ‘I’d love to get in the habit of running’, “I want to make eating healthy a habit’, etc. without realising that WE, ourselves, are habits.
What’s the deal with habits?
Habits are automated behaviours we developed over time to simplify our life. Can you imagine having to consciously think about everything we do on a daily basis?
Habits can be broken down into three parts. The first element of a habit is the Cue or the trigger, something that indicates that it is time to perform a given behaviour. The second part is the Behaviour, a series of actions that we perform after seeing a cue. The last part is about the Reward, the satisfaction we get from the habit itself.
If we use the example of smoking as a habit, it would be something like this. 1) Finish a meal (cue), 2) smoke a cigarette (behaviour), 3) feeling more content/or relaxed (reward)
Indeed, when it comes to replacing old habits with new, positive ones, the first impulse is to get rid of all the things that remind us of said habit. This can be very difficult as we are not always in control of our environment or people’s behaviour for that matter! So what do you do?
The key is to find a new habit that gives you a similar emotional reward, a reward that your brain can get hooked to and start expecting. If you wanted to start exercising for 30 minutes every day instead of watching TV, the release of feel good endorphins that you would get from exercising could replace the feel good effect of one episode of a TV show.
The anatomy of habits that stick
1. Become self-aware
Identify the cue/trigger, how you respond to it, and what kind of reward you get
2. Change the behaviour
As we said earlier on, the cue and reward need to stay the same for a habit to change, but the behaviour needs to be replaced. Find one that gives you a similar satisfaction.
No prize for guessing, creating habits that stick is all about repetition
How long does that take? Well, that’s a tricky question. The popular answer is 21 days, but research shows that this number will vary widely depending on the habit we are trying to change. My rule of thumb is to do it consecutively for at least 30 days.
Like with anything, the first step is always the hardest. Take it one day at a time and watch the magic happen.
For more wellbeing and lifestyle tips and insights, check out my blog.
If you’d like to revamp your habits around comfort/stress eating, my book STUFFED has all the answers.