Creating New Habits

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

"What you do EVERY DAY matters more than what you do once in a while." -Gretchen Rubin

The month of May was dedicated to discussing exercise mindset.

The 5 Second Rule was shared with you as a strategy that I use when I just don’t feel like it.

The importance of remaining dedicated to your fitness journey was debated, and last week, I discussed the deeply personal battle with my inner critic.

So, to wrap up this mindful month - let’s discuss how we can replace the habits that do not serve our growth with behaviors that are in line with our goals.

Philosopher Will Durant once said, “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” You might have read that and thought, “Aristotle said that.” In all honesty, I thought he did too until I did some digging. We can credit Aristotle for penning in Nicomachean Ethics, “Some thinkers hold that it is by nature that people become good, others that it is by habit, and others that is it by instruction.”

Research from the National Science Foundation in 2005 found that humans have 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. PER. DAY.

95% of those thoughts are the EXACT same ones as the day before, and 80% of those thoughts are negative. We’re not so different from a hamster on a wheel. Taking a real, introspective look at my habits helped me break the Groundhog Day cycle and become a much healthier person as well.

Since our habits tend to define us - how do we change our habits in order to make positive steps toward a healthier journey in life?

I used to define myself as a runner.

When I worked in education, I was a candy eater - which has a much less glamorous ring to it.

It wasn’t until I came across Charles DuHigg’s book, The Power of Habit that I realized that there is actual science behind my candy eating habit.

Dedication to good habits will change your future.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU REPEATEDLY DO. I worked in education for over 15 years. During that time, I was often training for a race. No matter how dedicated I was to my training, I’d always fall prey to candy...or the ever illustrious cupcake or cookie - but that’s not the point. I mean, realistically, we could just talk about sugar addiction here, but let’s stay focused on how I kicked the candy habit.

Reserve your judgments, I can hear your snacking from here as you read this blog. If a sugary treat happened to be laid upon a table in the workroom, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to shove it in my face. Oddly enough, when a treat was offered to me by a sweet kiddo who was celebrating their birthday, I would usually accept, but then trash it. Odd.

There’s a distinct pattern that lead me to seek sugar when I left my office. So what was I going to do - never leave my office?

Wear horse blinders so I couldn’t see the candy?

I wonder how I’d look with horse blinders?

That’s beside the point.

Candy eating was problematic for me.

I (felt like) I was motivated to change it, but I didn’t know where to start.

My old pattern would be to just ignore the candy when I came across it, but eventually my brain would kick me on the inside of my face repeatedly and I’d give in.

Next came the feeling of regret. The feeling that would make me feel awful that I’d broken my [insert number] day streak of being candy-free.

That number was very regularly zero, in case you were wondering.

Through this struggle, learned that motivation isn’t the most effective way to create a new habit. Your memory and motivation are going to fail you. This is not a pessimistic mindset - it’s just being really real.

(If you haven’t read my blog on motivation, check it out here.)

I was certainly motivated to kick the habit, but eventually I learned how to change my habit instead of working so hard to eliminate it.

THREE COMPONENTS OF HABIT CHANGE In The Power of Habit, DuHigg introduces the “habit loop,” which has three components:

1. The cue is a reminder or trigger that initiates the behavior.

2. The routine is the behavior or action you take when your brain is “cued.”

3. And the reward is the feeling of satisfaction from doing the behavior. (Hooray for dopamine!)

Every habit that we have follows this same loop.

Regardless of whether or not the habit is good or bad, the longer the habit has been in place, the more automatic it becomes.

THE HABIT LOOP IN ACTION Let’s go back to my candy-eating habit to get a better understanding of how I changed it.

The routine went on for years - falling on-and-off the candy wagon.

The sense of craving was so powerful that I could not ignore it.

I first had to identify what was triggering my craving for candy. I became aware that I had a tendency to sit at my desk for long periods of time without taking a break - even to use the bathroom.

By the time I finally paused to take a break, my brain was exhausted.

I’d end up sleepily wandering down the hall into the workroom. I knew that the candy would give me a boost in energy. It didn’t matter that there would be a sugar crash later, which would lead to another trip seeking that sweet sugar high...and cavities, but that was the least of my concerns.

My trigger was “exhaustion.”

My routine was going to the workroom for a treat.

My reward was that momentary energy boost.

1 - 2 - 3.

I knew that the candy was bad for me in so many ways, but how could I break my habit?

I needed to work smarter.

I started giving myself more frequent breaks so I wasn’t completely exhausted.

I stopped going into the workroom where the inevitable sugary temptation lived.

Most importantly - my brain needed a break to reboot before going back to work.

During my breaks, I’d take a walk around the building or just stepped outside for a minute if a walk wasn’t feasible.

Five minutes was long enough for me to regain my energy - with the help of a little vitamin D - so I could continue to be productive...and save my teeth.

To change your life, change your habits.

CREATING NEW HABITS In creating new habits, which I’ve done with so many things other than just eating candy - I had to determine the trigger.

Triggers can be a location, time of day, emotional state, and even the action of others.

Journaling is an effective way to track the triggers and begin to make changes.

Personally, I’ve kept a habit tracker for many things over that past year and a half.

For six months, I tracked whether or not I stopped to breathe.

It’s amazing how much deliberately stopping to simply breathe for a single minute can change your day - and probably the days of those who interact with you.

My recommendation, don’t try to change all of your habits at the same time. Pick one habit that you’d like to change and work on that one conscientiously to replace it with a new habit.

It’s also important to note that new research is suggesting that it takes around 66 days to form a new habit, which I know is a stark contrast to the old “10” and “21” day model.

Turns out, it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a new habit to fully develop depending on the difficulty of the change you’re working to make.

My advice to you is to be patient and determined while working towards making a change.

If you need support on your fitness journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

I’d love to work with you on creating new healthier habits, on your journey towards becoming a better (candy free) YOU.

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