First, it’s important to know that almost everything we do – at least everything we do repeatedly – is a habit.

A habit is an automatic mini-routine that requires almost no brain power. Here are some examples:

Some of your habits will serve your goals.

For instance, I remember reading a blog post from Jim Estill and he said (paraphrased) he doesn’t shower in the morning until he breaks a sweat. It might not be a 60 minute workout, but he does something. That’s a habit that clearly serves a fitness goal.

Some of your habits won’t serve your goals.

For instance, when I sit on the couch I immediately crave junk food. I’m not hungry, I know the impact of my decisions, and I don’t think “I should have some junk food”. The habit is when my butt hits the couch, my brain says “Ms. Vickie’s delicious Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar Chips…mmmmmmmm”.

The key to making habits change is to understand how habits work. Here’s a great diagram of the habit loop from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit:According to Duhigg, there are 3 pieces to a habit:

  1. CUE – this is what kicks the brain into automatic mode and starts the habit cycle. My butt hitting the couch, putting the dishes in the dishwasher before you pour a glass of wine, or Estill going to his dresser in the morning to get dressed before the workout. It’s the environmental stimulus, not something you consciously did to start the habit.
  2. ROUTINE – this is your response. “I want chips” and grab the bag of chips, “let’s have a glass of wine” and reach for the wine glass, or Estill’s brain reminding him to workout before a shower and putting on workout clothing. When the habit serves you, this is awesome, and when it doesn’t, it’s what takes willpower to fight (but more on that later)
  3. REWARD – this is simple. It’s the taste of delicious chips, the glass of wine with your spouse, or feeling good after a workout and shower. The reward also tells your brain “this is good, I should do it again”, which strengthens the habit loop. It’s worth noting, even if I don’t like the fact I ate the whole bag of chips, they tasted good and my brain likes that and still strengthens the habit loop. Stupid brain, don’t you know I want to NOT eat chips!

You may be asking “Great, I have a ton of habits I want to change. What do I do next?”

I’m glad you asked 

Next week I will show you how to create a new, healthy habit! Today, let’s go over how to change a bad habit to a good one.

To change a “bad habit” into a “good habit”, or to create a new habit (fun!) you can change any one of the 3 parts of the loop. Some of this will require willpower and won’t feel super easy, and that’s okay.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Change the CUE – Sit on a different chair to watch TV, read a book in a different location instead of TV, wash the dishes as a family instead of putting them in the dishwasher. You get the idea. It’s changing what you do so the habit loop doesn’t start as easily.
  2. Change the ROUTINE – When my brain says “chips” I grab the bag and eat them right out of the bag. To change the routine, I could put a smaller serving in a bowl, I could grab something other than chips that aligns closer to my goals, or, one of my favorites, before I eat the chips I drink a BIG glass of water and set a 15 minute timer to see if the craving subsides.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The key with changing the routine is to recognize when your brain says “chips” that you acknowledge that this is the routine step of a habit loop, and substitute a change. It will not work for me to sit there and drain whatever willpower I have at the end of the night to fight the cravings. Willpower is finite, and it will fail. By substituting, I am letting my brain execute the habit loop but just changing up what I do, and that takes far less willpower.
  3. Change the REWARD – This is tied to the routine. If I grabbed a smaller bowl of chips, my brain now says “not eating the whole bag is great, you don’t feel awful”. If I grabbed a healthy snack, I am changing my habit loop of snacking while watching TV to snacking on something healthy, and if I had a glass of water beforehand I am changing the loop to “I drink water when I watch TV”. Even if I still eat some chips, I made progress towards my goals AND am changing my habit loop

in either case, the reward will change based on the routine.

Lastly, it’s important to recognize 2 things.

First, a lot of our habits are deeply rooted in our childhood and upbringing. It’s no surprise when I watch TV that I want junk food – growing up after dinner it was TV and snack time. We’d watch Star Trek, The Red Green Show, This Hour has 22 minutes, Indiana Jones, or James Bond, and always have chips or ice cream. We had a “chip” cupboard that was never empty.

Of course having that as my routine for over a decade is going to influence my habits, just like it influenced yours

So if you are like me, the key is to not beat yourself up, blame your parents, or to be frustrated with yourself.

The key is to recognize “oh, this is just a habit loop. I’m going to change one of the 3 steps” and keep an optimistic attitude, even though it is frustrating.

Second, a lot of our habits involving food are rooted in social connection and relationships. That glass of wine after dinner is a habit, but it might be because when you are connecting with your spouse after a long day and having a glass of wine is what you do when you chat with them.

When you go to someone’s house, we always bring food or drink. It’s part of how humans relate – we break bread and connect. A lot of this is covered in one of my favorite books of all time, Sapiens.

The key with habits involving food when you connect with people is to remember that the habit is the connection. You can still have a great conversation with a friend or loved one and NOT have that glass of wine or charcuterie board. You will not lose that connection or relationship.

Recognize you want the time together, not the glass of wine, and the habit loop is easier to change or break.

Up next, how to make new habits stick.

Habit Change can be a challenging realm for a lot of people. It’s one thing to know what to do, and it’s another entirely to be able to practice the skills and mindset to be successful long term – after all, almost everyone “knows what they need to do”.

They struggle to put it into action.

If you’re interested in learning more working with a coach to help you implement changes in your life click below to book a free, no-obligation phone call to see if we’re the right fit.

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