This is about the time our resolutions start to wane and our reflections on 2021 get a little fuzzy. Whether we realize it or not, habits dictate an incredibly large part of our daily behaviors. Everything from what we eat, to how we dress, to our exercise routines, and even how we think is strongly driven by habit. It’s just how our brains are wired.
This means to make changes in our lives we must hack into our programming and rewrite some of these coded behaviors. For anyone who has tried to quit smoking, overeating, or any other difficult-to-change behavior, we know changing those patterns is much easier said than done.
Charles Duhigg wrote a great book called the Power of Habit. He talks about key habits and motivation:
Motivation is the why behind our habits. Research has shown over and over again that people are far more likely to succeed in changing a habit when it is tied to a goal. This means if you set a goal of working out three days a week just because you know it is good for you, your likelihood of turning that into a long-term habit is pretty low. On the other hand, if you set a goal, like being able to run a half marathon at the end of the year and you set up a training schedule as part of working toward that goal, then you have a really good chance of actually sticking with that routine even after you have reached your goal. The difference is doing something just for the sake of doing it is not a strong motivator in our brains, but working toward something we want fires the reward centers in our brains and will keep us coming back for more.
Key habits are habits that have a trickle-down effect. We are not very good at changing many things at once, but when we focus on a goal and change a key habit in order to achieve that goal, the benefits can be far reaching. Let’s take our training for a half marathon example. If you are overweight, have poor eating habits, and never exercise you have a pretty daunting list of things to change. By setting a goal and picking one habit to change related to the others, it will make it possible to change them all over time. So, in our example goal of running the half marathon, the Key Habit would be adding an appropriate exercise/training routine. As our training routine becomes more demanding, diet will naturally change to accommodate it. It’s very hard to go for a 13-mile run after eating a heavy burger and fries. The weight loss will also happen without requiring too much specific mental and emotional energy directed at it.
Breaking bad habits is a lot harder than adding good ones. Whenever possible we want to replace a bad habit with a good one versus focusing on just stopping the bad habit. For example, when we do dietary counseling in our office, one of the first things we do is look at where we can add things in. If you love chocolate cake and the first thing we do is cut it from your diet then you are not likely to stick with the diet changes we are trying to make because all you can think about is chocolate cake. On the other hand, if we tell you you need to get at least 5 large servings of vegetables in per day but once you do the rest of what you eat is up to you, at the end of the day you don’t have much room for chocolate cake, so you cut back on that as a necessity. That’s called overwriting habits and it is a very successful approach to making lasting changes.
Do you need help overwriting your habits? Contact us–– we're here to help!