Nowadays, the focus on wellness and becoming healthier through making positive changes in life – i.e., new gym memberships to lose weight, eating healthier foods, going to sleep earlier, quit smoking, and so on – is at the forefront of most peoples’ minds. Although setting the intention to change behaviors is a great first step, oftentimes this leads to failed attempts, as the pressures of everyday life interfere with the ability to maintain changes. Therefore, this article looks to promote behavior changes by providing you with a deeper understanding of behaviors and cultivate mindful awareness of what drives our daily choices.
In order to promote sustainable change, it is important to focus on the automatic habits and patterns that are involved in your routine. Habits form out of a necessity and this is commonly referred to as a “Habit Loop”. Let us take the simple goal of wanting to develop an early morning exercise routine. In this example, a common habit loop involves the following pattern:
- The Cue: You wake early to an alarm and still feel tired.
- The Routine: You hit the snooze button to quiet the alarm and roll back over to sleep more.
- The Reward: As a result, you satisfy the necessity to save energy and rest more, missing your morning workout.
The “cue” is set by whatever leads to the tired feeling upon waking. This could be your stressful lifestyle, lack of sleep, poor dietary habits, and nutrient deficiencies, etc., and induces the “craving” sensation to roll over and sleep again. If you are not mindful about the craving to hit the snooze button on the alarm, and thus satisfying the necessity for more sleep, you will mindlessly follow through with the same routine.
Addressing the self-defeating cycle
First, you must identify the underlying causes of the cue. In our example, this would mean looking at those factors that could be affecting your energy levels each morning, as previously mentioned. A few minor corrections in energy-draining behaviors may be enough to give you the motivation to get out of bed in the early morning. These simple lifestyle modifications may have additional unintended health benefits as well.
Along with identifying the causes of the cue, you can help break the habit cycle by introducing new, health-promoting routines to be used when the craving sensation sets the cycle in motion. These routines should be easy to employ whenever the necessity triggers the demand for the routine. In our example, a simple routine change may mean putting the alarm clock across the room so that you must stand up and cross the room to hit the snooze button. Although not foolproof, you are more likely to stay awake if you have already left the bed.
With a deeper understanding of the cues, routines, and rewards that direct your daily life, you can adapt a simple change to any habit and make a positive routine. The reported time that it takes for a new habit to stick is approximately 3 weeks of consistent practice.