Habits

This week we have been discussing how our daily habits can hinder our health and fitness goals. Most of us aren’t aware of our habits on a daily basis. Working on altering these daily habits could help you start to achieve your health and fitness goals.

Read the article to gain a better understanding of habits.

“We become what we repeatedly do.”

What we do on a regular basis is driven by habits. Habits are subconscious (don’t really think about) activities that we often perform on a daily basis. Some of our habits have been engrained over many years and can be very hard to change. We go through a method that you can use to examine the reasons behind them and encourage you to make positive changes that will counteract them. Building positive new habits is just as important as breaking old habits, we’ll talk about what to do and what not to do to make sure they become permanent.

The Theory:

Habits are a natural part of human nature and often become increasingly rigid as we get older. Modern life and technology are increasingly becoming part of our lives and often lead to habits that have a detrimental effect on our activity levels. The number of people using cars to travel short distances and the increasing amount of time spent sedentary watching television are common examples. However, some habits are also beneficial, for example going for a run, the gym or walking the dog. Understanding which of your actions are driven through habit is an important first step. The ability to break old and/or bad habits and set new ones is all down to your mind-set. Making an effort to do something regularly, and often as part of a routine (e.g. similar time, similar place etc.), increases the chance that you will continue. The activity begins to become your own personal norm and is therefore harder to break as time goes on. Research suggests that the optimal time to form a habit is about 66 days, depending on what it is and the person. Some people can engrain a new habit in fewer days but we all vary. What we can say, is that it takes some effort in the early days to persevere and make positive changes, which after time will become easier to perform.

We all have habits, some good (e.g. cleaning our teeth) and some bad (e.g. reaching for the wine after getting home). Our aim during this process is to try and encourage you to start to change some of your habits into healthy ones. This will take time but remember we are making changes for the long-term and not quick fix changes. We all have different reasons but it is important to make sure you understand what they are, for some it may be to look good, for others spend more quality time with their families or even just to be healthier. This programme helps you understand the changes that need to be made and encourages you to incorporate them into your daily routine. It is important to make these changes slowly over time as although large changes may seem good at first, they are rarely sustainable for long enough to become a habit. For instance, if you eat a lot of chocolate, cutting it down gradually will allow a smoother and more successful transition to a habit where you continually eat less without having to have an emotional battle each time you think about it.

HOW TO SPOT AND BREAK A BAD HABIT

Step 1 – IDENTIFICATION: Identify the components of habit cycles. Once you have diagnosed the cycle of a particular behaviour, you can look for ways to replace old vices with new routines. As an example, going to the cafeteria and buying a chocolate chip cookie every afternoon. This habit has caused you to gain a few pounds. You’ve tried to force yourself to stop – you even tried putting a post-it on your computer that reads “NO MORE COOKIES”.
➢ But every afternoon you manage to ignore that note, get up, wander towards the cafeteria, buy a cookie and, while chatting with colleagues around the cash register, eat it. It feels good, and then it feels bad. Tomorrow, you promise yourself, you’ll muster the willpower to resist.
➢ But tomorrow, the habit takes hold again.
How do you start diagnosing and then changing this behaviour?
➢ By figuring out the habit loop we can take the first step to identify the routine. In this case it’s the cookie scenario!

Step 2 – ROOT CAUSES: You need to dig deep and ask some less obvious questions: What’s the cue for this routine? Is it hunger? Boredom? Low blood sugar? That you need a break before plunging into another task?

Step 3 – WHAT IS THE BENEFIT: So what is my reward for doing this? The cookie itself? The change of scenery? The temporary distraction? Socializing with colleagues? Or the burst of energy that comes from that blast of sugar?

Step 4 – TAKING ACTION: Have a plan! Change the routine with the same rewards. Say in this case you decided that the real cause is boredom and a desire to interact with colleagues. Changing the routine from going to the cafeteria to get a cookie, to instead inviting a colleague for a walk at a prescribed time will give many of the same effects. Try to do this regularly instead (and don’t walk past the cookies) and you will find you no longer crave that cookie.
Part of breaking habits is gaining an understanding of why you do things, and sometimes you may need to try a few different alternatives to replace what you were doing with something more positive. Similarly, performing positive activities will only become habit if you continue them for some time, so it is important to do things that you can maintain and/or gradually increase without putting yourself under so much pressure that you give up.