by Valerie Demetros
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
If you’re interested in changing your habits for a better, healthier lifestyle but think you don’t have the willpower, think again.
Change is not as much about willpower as much as it is about altering your habits.
Researchers at Duke University found that habits account for about 40% of behaviors each day. That’s because the behavioral patterns repeated most often are etched into your neural pathways. And changing those pathways is all about changing your habits.
Think about your automatic habits. For example, you may pick up your phone and check Instagram or Facebook numerous times a day without thinking about it. Did you think, “It’s time to check Instagram now?” Or is it just a habit?
Researchers now link habits to a specific three-step habit loop.
The first step is the cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and prompts a behavior. The second step is your routine, which is the behavior and the action you take. Finally, the last step is the reward, which makes the habit worth repeating.
Let’s take the example of checking your phone.
First the cue, which could be when you get bored or get a notification. The routine is the behavior of heading into the rabbit hole of wasted time that could be better used. The reward is the good feeling of relating to people or watching reels that make you smile.
Your first job is to identify the habits you want to change. Take a minute to write down each habit loop you want to change — then list the cue, routine and reward for each one.
After you have listed these habits, it’s time to choose one. Don’t try to change too many at once or choose the biggest habit up front. Ease yourself into it by choosing a habit that may be easier to change or a habit that may positively affect other habits.
For example, if you want to eat healthier, you could skip your nightly snack in front of the TV and replace it with a healthier version. This leads to buying fewer snacks, stocking the fridge with healthier foods and even exercising more.
In this example, the cue is sitting down in front of the TV. This is when you grab those chips, but now you grab an apple instead. Your reward, which used to be chips, is replaced with feeling good and becoming healthier. As this becomes routine, you begin to stock more healthy snacks, feel healthier and even lose weight.
Start slow and be kind. Faltering does not mean the end. You need to get these changes in your life on a regular basis for your brain so see it has a new habit loop.