Change your habits with one simple trick
You've probably heard the saying before 'Healthy is not a diet, it's a lifestyle'. Whenever I hear this I think, 'Well... sure but living a certain lifestyle is easier said than done, especially when you have habits that have been engrained in you for years or even decades'.
How are you supposed to fight off your sweets craving when you have had sweets your whole life? How do you get yourself to the gym after work when for the past 5 years you go straight home and veg out on the couch?
It's so tough to fight a bad habit, so if you've been struggling I hope you know it is normal to not be able to change your lifestyle despite really wanting to. I'm going to break it down for you so you understand why habit change is so difficult, and hopefully provide you with a tool to change those habits.
Just to make this clear- this information on habits isn't something I made up. It's all stuff I learned from 'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg.
First to understand how to break a habit we need to understand what a habit is. A habit is an automatic response we have to a trigger that is then strengthened by a reward. This is the case with both positive and negative habits. For example: you wake up and hour before work and have coffee (trigger) then you go to the gym and workout (habit) then you feel the endorphins (reward)... OR in another universe you get bored at your desk (trigger) you get up and get a snack (habit) you eat the tasty snack (reward). There's so many habit loops we live through every day, it's basically your brains way of saving energy for the more complex stuff.
Another thing to know about habits: they exist in a part of your brain that is not part of the conscious mind, and your conscious decisions are made in a completely different part of the brain. This is why you may have made up your mind to change a bad habit, and yet you still find yourself doing it! It's not a will power problem. You are just approaching the habit change the wrong way. The trigger is still there and you are following it because that's what a good brain would do.
So here's be magic trick to changing your habits: be mindful. Yes, it's that simple. What do I mean by mindful? You should be curious about your habit, observe how you feel during the habit, and just take mental notes on those observations. You probably can pin point the habit itself, but what is the trigger? What is the reward? This 'mindfulness' or curiosity will activate your prefrontal cortex and allow you to internalize how the habit actually makes you feel. If the habit is actually a negative habit you will likely feel bad during or after, then your brain will start associating the trigger with the negative feeling, and you will break the habit loop. That's it!
Make sure to pin this info-graphic as a handy reminder of this approach when you are struggling with a bad habit.
It sounds simple (and it can be) but it takes practice and a lot of work to be mindful during your habit loops. Once I found this out about habit change I gave it a try in my life, and guess what...
I floss every night before bed now.
You probably aren't impressed, but let me explain. I have been trying to make flossing a habit since I was in high school. My teeth are prone to cavities (confirmed by my dentist) and the last thing I want is for them to rot away as I grow older. Flossing was always something I wanted to make a habit, but for some reason I just couldn't do it.
I started small, trying to floss my teeth every night. First I was mindful of my bedtime routine, usually triggered by feeling tired. After I brushed my teeth I was mindful of how my mouth felt afterwards, and looked for things still in between my teeth. A few nights of this and I started feeling gross without flossing, like I wasn't finished because there was still stuff in my teeth. And BAM. A week or so later and I'm still flossing on the daily.
Want to learn more about habit change? Read The Power of Habit, the book that taught me everything I know about habit change!
You can buy the book through my affiliate link. This does not make it more expensive for you, it only gives me a small percentage of the purchase and helps support this blog. So thank you to those who do!
You can also listen to this TED radio hour podcast that taught me about mindfulness and it's role in habit change here!