Habits- we all have them, the good, the bad and the ugly! They are part of our daily rituals and behaviours and are so engrained into our lives they actually engrave a neural pathway into your brain. These pathways become stronger with repetition until this behavior is your new normal i.e. habit! After time we perform these behaviors less conscoiusly meaning we may even do something without even thinking about it.
Of course this can work both ways and some of our habits may be hugely beneficial and some not so much.
Take for example drinking a glass of water upon waking in the morning, at first you had to think about it but after a time you pour a glass automatically and with no thought or effort.
Or sitting down in the evening after dinner, youv'e started to have a bowl of icecream every evening whilst you watch tv. After a time you associate after dinner time and tv with a bowl of icecream and if you don't have it cravings creep in. These are really hard to overcome as the push to get the reward can be overwhelming unless you replace this habit with something else. Of course its fine to eat icecream and enjoy it but when you have a goal in mind it's probably not the best decision.
The trouble with stopping a habit is the empty space that it leaves so finding one to replace that, one that will bring you closer to your goals is key.
Lets talk about the dopamine spike-
Habits are a dopamine driven feedback loop. Every behavior that is highly habit forming such as eating junk food, taking drugs or browsing social media is associated with higher levels of dopamine as well our most basic habits. It plays a central role in many neurological processes including motivation, learning and memory e.t.c...
Dopamine is released not only when you experience the event but right before too. Whenever you think about a rewarding behaviour your levels of dopamine spike in anticipation. See how strong the drive to perform this behavior is.
The key to changing from a less desirable habit to one that will bring you closer to your goals as described by the brilliant author James Clear is to make it -
Make it obvious (Cue)
Making a habit obvious is about creating cues around you to promote your new habit.
Be it putting out your gym gear the night before so upon waking its right there encouraging that new behavior.
Or removing the biscuit jar from the kitchen counter and replacing with an attractive bowl of fruit.
Keeping healthier food at eye level in the cupboards and fridge with less healthy options towards the back or in opaque container.
Or if you wish to start meditating maybe say to yourself "After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute."
All of these and more create a cue response.
Make it attractive (Craving)
The more attractive an opportunity is the more likely it is to become habit forming.
Perhaps you usually meet your friends for coffee and a chat once a week but its your only day free to get out for a good walk and you really need to get some exercise in. Maybe suggest combining the two with a takeaway coffee and a good stomp and catch up for an hour.
Perhaps you want to hear about the latest celebrity gossip, but you need to get in shape. Using 'temptation bundling', you could only read the tabloids and watch reality shows at the gym.
Or make a healthy meal really attractive and enjoyable with new recipes and colourful fresh ingredients.
Make it easy (Response)
Don't overwhelm yourself with too much at once
Perhaps you'd like to run 5k but getting to this will take some time if you are a novice. Instead try walking round the block 3 times a week until you feel ready to push it up a notch. This is an easy habit to form and one that isn't an overwhelm, you can build upon this when you feel ready but this is your foundation. Going from 0-100 usually isn't sustainable and may even result in injury.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it. This is the first takeaway of the 3rd Law: you just need to get your reps in.
Each time you repeat an action, you are activating a particular neural circuit associated with that habit. This means that simply putting in your reps is one of the most critical steps you can take to encoding a new habit.
Make it satisfying (Reward)
We are more likely to repeat an experience if it's satisfying. The human brain has evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards.
Reward yourself after youv'e completed your habit but one that alignes with your goals.
To get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful — even if it’s in a small way. The first three laws of behavior change — make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy — increase the odds that a behavior will be performed this time.
So how do we stop bad habits? Well it's the reverse of creating a good one.
Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying.
How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
If you miss one day, try to get back into it as quickly as possible.
This is why “bad” workouts are often the most important ones. Sluggish days and bad workouts maintain the compound gains you accrued from previous good days.
Simply doing something — ten squats, five sprints, a push-up, anything really — is huge.
This also applies to food choice- if you slip back into an unwanted habit today don't beat yourself up, instead get back on it to great the habits in your life to move youcloser and closer towards your goals with every action.
As you can see Habits are incredibly powerful and a huge part of our everyday lives. These newly formed habits that aligne with your goals are the foundation for your success.
We've discussed Barriers in my pervious blog so in the next episode lets look at goal setting then we can get right into the nitty gritty.
I truly beieve that all of these foundations need to be put into place for a succesful outcome not just for a month or so but for a lifetime.
If you need help our coaching with any goal you wish to accomplish reach out.
I highly recommend the book - Atomic Habits by James Clear
Coach Tula xx