The power of habit

29 October 2018 • By Sally
We’re not born with habits, we start making them after we’re born. Instead we arrive in the world with innate senses but over time we gradually allow habits to override those senses, such as natural hunger and fullness, the fundamental need to move, or the requirement to sleep for 7+ hours a night.

Our habits undermine our senses and they can undermine our health too.
How do habits form?
Apparently, according to James Clear who wrote this book,  habits follow a 4-step sequence:

• Cue
• Craving
• Response
• Reward

Let’s look at the situation when I wake up each morning; this is one of my bad habits:
Cue: I hear my phone bleep a notification.
Craving: I want to know what it says.
Response: I pick up my phone and start reading, then get sidetracked into checking emails and social media for ages.
Reward: I feel like I know what’s going on.
And here's a random food one I made up:
Cue: Open cupboard to get teabag, see bread.
Craving: Start wanting toast.
Response: Make and eat toast.
Reward: Toast happiness.

But something is left off in those four points isn’t it…
Consequence
So now look again at my two examples bearing in mind the consequences:
Cue: I hear my phone bleep a notification.
Craving: I want to know what it says.
Response: I pick up my phone and start reading, then get sidetracked into checking emails and social media for ages.
Reward: I feel like I know what’s going on.
Consequence: I eat up important time when I should be working or spending with my son or feeding my animals.
Cue: Open cupboard to get teabag, see bread.
Craving: Start wanting toast.
Response: Make and eat toast.
Reward: Toast happiness.
Consequence: I overeat and get fatter than I want to be.
So you might think, well just don’t pick up your phone Sal, or just don’t make the toast. That’s the thing about habits – we repeatedly do them on autopilot and often forget about the consequences. The next time you clean your teeth be conscious of the things you do and how you usually do them without thinking, but they are an exact sequence that you repeat over and over each time you brush your teeth!

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Become aware of your habits
While the sequence of a habit is the same, everyone’s habits are different. In order to change a habit we have to become aware of it so we can stop in the moment and do something different. We also have to want to. We encourage our clients to do this as much as possible to encourage habits that better support their health.

Things that could be done with the toast example above:

• Move the bread to a different cupboard.
• Close the cupboard, walk out of the room, sit down for 60 secs and just breathe, or read a page of a book, or tidy my desk, do some star jumps.
• Get rid of the toaster so that I have to use the grill instead, make it more difficult to practise that habit.

Because it’s our jam, we help people focus on habits that affect health. Of course this is tricky because most of the time you’re trying to change something you've enjoyed. Like eating chocolate, biscuits, cake, and crisps as snacks or any time you have a cup of tea or coffee; eating large portions; drinking alcohol every day; sitting down instead of moving. Remember, you don't have to change, but if you want to we'll help and make it smooth and painless!
Make new habits that you enjoy
In order to upgrade your habits they have to be enjoyable and you need to fully believe in and want the outcome. But new habits sometimes aren't enjoyable at first.

Let’s take running as an example.

When I first became a runner it felt horrible, it was so hard and I couldn’t breathe properly, my legs hurt and it made me ache. So why would I want to do that again?!

Well I wanted to do it again because I wanted to be fitter so that I can live a longer, more physically comfortable life. And I really LOVE being outdoors in all weathers. But what I see in new runners is them trying to make a huge new habit straight away.

So they’ll set off on a three mile run as their first attempt and start running really fast as soon as they step out of the door. Then what happens? They fade and get out of breath really quickly, it bloody hurts, it feels like SO MUCH effort and that they’ll never get anywhere with this running malarkey and they think they’re crap at it, so they never do it again. Then they say “I hate running” when they actually mean “I don’t want to run because I tried once and it was awful.”

Whilst I admire the intention, that’s not the easiest way to make a new habit.
Take it slow
New habits are best formed in small steps. I practise this with some bespoke nutrition clients. I help them to build better habits slowly. They come to me with a background of eating mostly food that doesn't make them feel good, sometimes I keep some of that food in their diet because it would be crazy of me not to. If they’re hooked on eating 5 doughnuts a day I might say they should cut down to one a day, if they like eating lots of takeaways I’ll put that on their plan every week but I’ll change other small things and gradually those other things will become less without them really noticing and those new things become more enjoyable.

Sometimes people think they can’t change because of the ‘This is me’ syndrome. For instance, I say I can’t do maths. “This is me, I’m crap at maths! I don’t do maths because I can’t do maths. I’m not doing maths so don't make me!”

What a load of old pony that is. If I wanted to do maths I could do it, it would just take some effort, but it’s effort I don’t want to put in because I HATE MATHS! There I go again “I hate maths” because this is the personal attribute and failing I have formed all by myself :-)

I don’t have to hate maths. I don’t have to hate celery (though I do hate celery, or I say and believe I do). I could try. I could keep doing a little bit of maths every day, I could keep trying celery.

But I don’t want to.

To change a habit you have to want to.

I do REALLY REALLY want to be healthy and live longer therefore I put effort into the habits that support that, such as healthy eating and exercise.
How to change your bad habits
  • Notice the habit.
  • Want to change a habit. This is crucial. The remaining steps will be so much harder if you actually don’t want to change.
  • Be comfortable with it taking a while and with it feeling strange.
  • Tackle it in small steps.
  • Make the old habit harder to practise.
  • Make the new habit as easy to practise as you can.
  • Visualise the outcome.
  • Believe you can change the habit, this is who you are now.
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GDPR Permissions: By subscribing to our list you agree to allow us to store and use the information you provide on this form to email you news, tips and offers about our services. You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at hello@fitnaturally.co.uk



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