What’s your worst habit?
Biting your nails?
Eating ice cream after breakfast?
Picking your nose?
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to break your bad habits? Can’t they just go away!?
Well, that’s not really in our nature…
Our history as hunter-gatherers leads us to value the present situation more than a potential future payoff.
That’s why it feels so much easier to choose the ice cream for dinner over the grilled chicken salad that HOPEFULLY leads to changes to your body composition.
But nothing is impossible!
So, how do all of those individuals who have successfully changed their body composition do it?
They create NEW habits!
This guide will teach you HOW, but first we must understand WHAT habits are.
What Are Habits?
Merriam-Webster defines habits as:
- “A settled tendency or usual manner of behavior.”
- “An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.”
The master of habits and author of Atomic Habits, James Clear defines a habit as “a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.”
As humans we have THOUSANDS of habits – some good, some bad, and some in-between – but no matter what, this behavior flows through a similar loop.
This is something that triggers a behavior. This could be an event, situation, sight, thought, etc.
From this cue comes the motivation that drives action. The situation is interpreted and connected to a thought, feeling, emotion, or separate action.
This is the action you perform following the cue and craving.
Finally, this is the satisfying of the craving or completion of the action.
Up to this point, you might not have even known this habit loop existed, but it’s important to understand because modifying any part of it can help you to break the bad habit and/or set NEW ones!
How to Build New Habits
Vague habits NEVER work.
“I’m going to workout more.”
How many times have you said THAT?
Workout one time, and you’ve done that, yet three months later you’re even MORE upset working out isn’t a habit.
Or how about this?
“I’m going to drink less.”
Order one less drink or volunteer to be the DD one night, and you’ve drank less.
With goals like these, how can you determine whether or not you achieved that or not?
How can you say whether you’ve stuck to it or measure your progress?
When you’re trying to build a new habit, it’s best to keep it simple. There’s no need to try to change EVERY piece of your diet and exercise routine overnight.
Can you realistically imagine changing your entire life in a day?
Of course not!
Pick ONE area to start and get very specific as to how you want to change it.
Set a thing (action, thought, or behavior) at a specific time and place.
Getting specific about what it is that you’re trying to do will help you to more easily eliminate distractions.
Try setting your goal using the following statement:
I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Very simple and very specific.
There’s a reason, I called James Clear the master of habits…
He frequently recommends habit stacking when breaking bad and establishing NEW habits.
Habit stacking means that you stack the new habit you’re working to establish with or on top of one that already exists.
When I was working to take control of my mornings and set a morning routine, habit stacking was a game changer!
My goal was to add in a meditation and gratitude practice.
Every morning, I started off with a greens drink and write out my to-do list.
I had two great habits to pair with two habits I was hoping to create.
I set my cup and greens mix on the end table next to the chair where I planned to meditate.
I meditated for 5 minutes.
After I meditated for 5 minutes, I mixed up my greens drink.
After drinking my greens drink, I wrote out my to-do list for today.
Once I finished my to-do list, I wrote out 3 people or things I was grateful for.
By tying the new habits (meditation and gratitude) to my well-established old habits (greens drink and to-do list) I was increasing my chance for success!
Make Your Habits Obvious & Attractive
Remember that habit loop?
Remember how every habit is initiated by a cue?
When that cue is obvious and attractive in our daily environment, we’re making the cue stand out more.
That was the point of putting my greens drink on the table next to my chair for meditation!
With my clients working to eat more veggies and drink more water, making these things obvious and attractive DRAMATICALLY increases their chance for success.
Buy yourself an easy-to-carry water bottle you can take with you throughout the day.
If carrying a water bottle with you throughout the day isn’t possible, buy a few water bottles to keep in your most frequently visited locations throughout the day (kitchen, work desk, car, bathroom, etc.).
Then there are the veggies, cut up your veggies as soon as you get home from the grocery store, then put them in clear containers lined at the front of the fridge.
If you STILL struggle to get in your veggies, spice them up with your favorite seasoning or serve them IN your favorite dish!
If you’re struggling to turn something you dislike into a habit, pair it with a reward or something you already enjoy making it more attractive!
Breaking Bad Habits
Now, you can build all the good habits you want, but you’re likely still wondering how to break your bad habits.
Many believe the formation of good habits can naturally weed out the bad habits; however, that doesn’t mean you should avoid actively trying to break your bad habits.
Honestly, bad habits can be broken in the same way good habits are formed.
Think about the cues for your bad habits and do your best to remove them from your daily life.
Try making it difficult, inconvenient, and unattractive.
Create as much work between you and the bad habit!
Let’s talk about the ice cream you just cannot avoid after dinner.
You’re working to cut back because you want to lose some body fat and decrease your sugar consumption.
Step #1: Change the Cue of Finishing Dinner = Ice Cream Time.
You can’t remove the action beforehand (you need to eat dinner!), but you can change your next action that you associate with it. Instead of finishing dinner and heading right to the freezer, try finishing dinner, drinking a glass of water, then going for a walk. After repeating this a few night in a row, you will begin to associate finishing dinner with water and a walk instead of ice cream.
Step #2: Shift Your Mindset
The ice cream following dinner is likely a partial stress reliever and reward. Unfortunately, the ice cream actually causes MORE stress to your body. You can 100% relieve your stress without ice cream and reward yourself in a way that better supports your fat loss goals. Change your mindset and the way you view the bad habit.
Step #3 Make Ice Cream More Difficult
Try keeping the ice cream in the back of the freezer, in a smaller freezer or better yet, don’t keep it in the house! Tell your family that you’re challenging yourself to cut back on the ice cream after dinner. Write down your goals and keep them around the house as a reminder. Anything you can do to make it require more effort to eat ice cream work in your favor!
Make yourself jump through hoops for these habits!
No matter how hard you try, bad habits will persist and you will ALWAYS hope to have better habits. The important piece to remember is that you are a work in progress and that perfection is unattainable, but continuing to implement these strategies will only bring you closer to your goals!
About The Author
Jordan Davies is the Co-Owner of Complete Performance. Jordan has her B.S. in Exercise Science and Psychology, and her M.A. in Holistic Health Studies. She is a CSCS certified strength and conditioning coach, and a PN-1 and NCI-1 certified nutrition coach. She loves to study how the human body needs to be moved and nourished and making that fit to your unique lifestyle. Click Here Now to Apply for Coaching with Jordan.