Episode 26 – Kick the habit: a guide to improve your habits

 

While today’s article is quite broad and can be applied to most, if not all habits, let’s use this article to both discuss basic health and fitness habit loops and as a guide to improve your habits overall.

 

1.  What’s a habit?

Habits are basically time and energy savers for the brain.  A habit helps to automate your choices and decisions and, thus conserves energy in the thinking process. There are three (3) basic components to a habit:

 

Cue

The cue is the stimulus or the trigger part of the habit loop. In NLP, this is called an anchor. This will prime you to move into the routine directly after it.

Here are some obvious examples:

  • When you’re at the beach and you hear the sound of melodic children’s music getting louder and louder (or even just a bell) – who is it? It’s an ice cream man.
  • Another classic example is the smell of the bakery or the smell of coffee beans from the coffee cart.
  • When I wake up (cue), I always stretch for 10 minutes (routine).

 

Routine

The Routine component is basically the action or thing you do.

For example:

  • When I smell coffee (cue), I may automatically want to buy coffee (routine).
  • When I hear my alarm (cue), I get up to start my day (routine) (or press snooze…. also a routine).

 

Reward

The reward is the outcome, feeling or the achievement from doing the routine. In the video, I gave very brief examples of rewards such as,

  • “feeling good”
  • “feeling cool”

 

It probably didn’t make much sense so I’ll explain it here:

 

“feeling good”

This reward might be exemplified more in the following examples:

  • the “runner’s high” you get after a jog
  • the sugar, salt and fat rush after you eat fast food fries
  • the caffeine buzz hit after you drink your coffee.

 

“feeling cool”

This is more of a psychological reward and some examples may include:

  • The feeling of an elevated “social” status from buying new clothes or shoes might make you “feel cool”
  • The feeling of getting more “street cred” or a good reputation after doing a good deed
  • It might even be something as complex as smoking a cigarette because you thought a ruggered man on a horse looked cool (and he was smoking) and you somehow emotionally associated yourself with that image (so called, “feeling cool”) and never consciously addressed that decision again (until now).

 

2. Why do you do the habit in the first place?

Let’s focus on the rewards component. This is important in understanding why you do the routine. When you do this, you can start to identify which routines will give the same reward. When you do this, you can replace the current routine with a similar routine that gives the same reward but is healthier or more geared towards your health and fitness goal.

 

For example,

If you’re feeling tired at 6 pm (cue) and you want to feel more energy or “feel more alive” (rewards).  Your original routine might be – to eat food (such as fast food).

 

Let’s break it down

This look at this example again in more detail:

 

You feel tired at 6 pm (cue), so you eat fast food (routine) and then you feel more “energetic” (reward).

 

Ask yourself, what else could you do in the routine component to get more energetic? Some examples of routines may include:

  • Wash face
  • Go for a walk
  • Eat a healthier option such as fruit (perhaps an apple)
  • Go for some green tea

 

We do it for the rewards

What are your rewards? The “energetic” part of eating fast food might be the rush of hormones in your mind.  The question then becomes, what routines give you the same (or near same) rewards but are healthier?

 

In this example, the alternative routines could be any (or all) of the following:

  • Washing your face will wake you up because it’ll cause an increase in blood flow to the face and eyes and thus providing them with more energy.
  • Going for a walk will get the blood flow up and stimulate feel good hormones to be released.
  • Eating fruit will give you a rush of good carbs and the same “feel good” hormones you get from eating.
  • Finally, green tea will give you a mellow hit of caffeine and theanine so you feel more alert and yet relaxed.

 

The rewards you seek

All of these routines will give you the “rewards” you seek but are healthier overall. If it’s not the “feeling” rewards you seek, it might be “memory / nostalgic ” rewards. This would have a completely different set of routines (eg. look at photos of those memories, call that person up, do something that’s fulfilling but non-food related, etc.)   It all comes down to understanding what rewards you seek!

So now you can start to understand how to find a suitable replacement for the middle component of the habit loop (the routine) – simply think about the reward you are seeking.

 

How else can you improve your habits? Read on for the rest of my guide to improve your habits!

 

 

3. Replace the routine part of the habit

First, write a list of potential new routines.

Then, consciously replace the routine part of the habit.

 

Let’s go back to the example above:

You feel tired (cue), then you eat fast food (routine) to get the “energetic” (reward) feeling.

 

Simply replace the original routine with a new routine such as, with an apple, green tea,  wash face, go for walk. Take notes about your experience on each routine and see which one sticks.

 

Potentially, your new habit could look like the following:

You feel tired (cue), then you drink green tea (new routine) to get the “energetic” (reward) feeling.

 

4. Have patience

The psychological reason to have patience is because of the learning curve experience. The four stages of the learning curve are:

  • Unconscious incompetence – not aware you’re doing it wrong
  • Conscious incompetence – aware you’re doing it wrong, but don’t know how to improve it yet
  • Conscious competence – aware that you’re doing it correctly but need to focus (note: trying to replace your routine with a new routine fits here)
  • Unconscious competence – no longer need to be aware you’re doing it right (new habit formed).

 

Don’t get disheartened, Repetitions count

Don’t get disheartened, keep working on it and over time it’ll become natural. Keep a progress chart for your weekly performance and look to improve it week to week. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day”…. but it was built.

 

Create new habits

Thanks for reading my guide to improve your habits. To summarize the tips again, here are the top four (4) tips to keep in mind:

1. What’s a habit?

2. Why do you do the habit in the first place?

3. Replace the routine part of the habit

4. Have patience

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  • Want live coaching? Click here to contact me. I look forward to working with you soon.

Feel free to watch the video

Bibliography

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  • Levitin, D. (2014) The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. Plume Printing
  • Maxwell, J. (2012) The 15 invaluable laws of growth: Live them and reach your potential. Center Street
  • O’Connor, J. Seymour, J. (1990) Introducing NLP: Psychological skills for understanding and influencing people. Thorsons
  • Pirsig, R. (1999) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into Values. Harpertorch
  • Thiel, P (2014) Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to build the future. Crown Business
  • Tolle, E. (2004) The Power of Now: A guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Namaste Publishing

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Chris Everingham lives and breathes health & fitness.

Chris Everingham lives and breathes health & fitness. International Athlete, Elite Performance Manager for the Philippine Volcanoes rugby teams, qualified Dietitian / Nutritionist and qualified educator. Chris Everingham combines more than 10 years of experience and education together to deliver the best strategies to grow your mindset, rewire your habits and transform your life.

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