How many times have you decided that you’re going to give yourself a total health makeover? Eat better, sleep more, exercise more, drink less, and start meditating. You know this plan will give you tons of energy and make you feel amazing. You feel excited and ready to get started! But you make it through just a day or so and then fall back into your old habits. Why?
For starters, your body and brain rely on habits more than you think. They’re used to doing things a certain way and don’t adapt well to change. So when you decide to change five habits all at once, it’s almost impossible to keep up. However, there are a few tricks you can use to get your body and brain on track and change those habits once and for all!
You’ve probably heard this before, but you should really only change one small habit at a time. Your brain can handle a small change, especially if you tackle it properly. There’s also a bonus to making one change successfully—studies have shown that when people make one positive habit change (such as eating well, exercising, meditating, or even spending more quality time with friends and family), other areas improve as well.
So what types of changes can your brain handle?
- If you constantly skip breakfast or grab a doughnut at work, pick a healthy breakfast that you love and eat it every morning.
- If you’re a couch potato, go for a ten-minute walk on your lunch break.
- If you’re an on-again, off-again exerciser, start a consistent three-times-per-week workout routine.
- If you’re constantly stressed, meditate for five minutes each morning.
- If you always head to the vending machine at 3 p.m., start bringing some almonds and fruit to work each day.
- If you get home from work and head straight to your computer for some surfing time, spend thirty minutes talking with your family or friends instead.
“Yeah, yeah,” you might be saying. “I’ve tried all those things before, and they never stick.” That’s because you haven’t figured out your brain’s little trick. After doing something for a long time, your brain has clues that you’re no longer aware of. For example, you might not actually be hungry at 3 p.m., but your subconscious is used to walking to the vending machine for a bag of chips at 3 p.m. every day. Your body might want to exercise after work, but you always go straight to your computer when you open the front door.
I just finished reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. The book explains that habits have three parts—a cue, a routine, and a reward. In order to change habits, we only need to change our routine. Our cue and reward need to stay the same. So if your goal is to start exercising each morning, what should you do? First, determine your “cue,” which is likely your alarm going off. Next, determine your current routine. This could be anything from taking a shower to eating breakfast to watching the news. Now, figure out your “reward,” or how you benefit from your current routine. You might feel relaxed, refreshed, energized, etc. The final step is to replace your current routine with your new desired habit. In this example, your new routine would be exercise. The final outcome would be: “cue = alarm going off”, “new routing = exercise”, “reward = feeling great”. The important part is that you only change your routine.
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