Project Healthy Lifestyle: Building New Habits
This week I’m going to start figuring out what habits I need to change to reach my goals. But first, let me explain exactly what a habit is, and then what strategies I’ll use when I want to change it.
Habits are an automatic, unconscious reaction
So what does that mean? It means that all the things we do every day, that we don’t have to even think about, is a habit. For example, a lot of people wake up in the morning, and the very first thing they do, after getting out of bed, is going to the bathroom. That’s a habit. We do it, without even making a decision to do it. Putting on your seatbelt when you get in the car, is another habit. And there are tons of habits that we use every single day of our lives.
Good habits vs. Bad Habits
When we talk about habits, we have a tendency to use good versus bad. I don’t like using those terms. The thing about habits is; they are a necessary part of being a functioning human being. There are certain tasks in life that we just NEED to do without thinking too much about it.
Every single day we have to make choices, and micro choices, so imagine if every little thing we do has to be a conscious choice and not just something we do automatically. Imagine having to weigh the pros and cons of brushing your teeth, instead of just doing it automatically, without thinking about it. Imagine you have to make that effort for every teeny tiny action you perform on just a regular day.
The fact is, that having habits saves us tons of energy and brainpower that we can then put to better use somewhere else. So, instead of talking about habits as being good or bad, let’s start talking about whether or not they are helping you reach your goal(s).
Trigger, Action, Reward!
So now that we have an overall idea of what a habit is, and why they are important, it’s time to identify the habits that we want to change. In order to do that, we need to dive a little bit deeper into what makes a habit.
Habits are made up of three elements:
Trigger – This is what starts the habit. Or rather, this is the thing that makes you perform the action, which then gives you a reward.
An example of this is could be that you always feel your energy wane at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, that’s the trigger. So you go down to the cafeteria and get yourself a chocolate bar, or you drink a cup of coffee, this is the action. While you eat you chocolate, or drink your coffee, you have a chat with a co-worker, and this is the reward.
Action – As shown in the example above, once you’ve been triggered, the action, is what the trigger “makes” you do.
Reward – Finally, the reward, this is what you’ve taught your brain that you get when you perform a specific action.
So why is it important to know all about what makes a habit? Well, if you build your lifestyle change on pure will power, it’s almost doomed to fail. Because as humans we can’t work on will power 100% of the time, for the rest of our lives. At some point, all the energy we put into using our will power will run out, and that’s when the habits take over. And if we haven’t worked on replacing the limiting habits that won’t help us reach our goals, with some new and more helpful habits, all the energy we put into it, in the beginning, is wasted.
Identifying How To Change A Certain Habit
Now that we know about triggers, actions, and rewards, we’re ready to start looking at the limiting habits we might want to change, so they can become more helpful in reaching our goals.
My first goal is to get more and better sleep. I want to lose weight and feel more energized and to do that sleep is extremely important.
Now I have a habit of staying up too late, which in turn means I only get 5,5 to 6 hours of sleep every night. This is fine for a short period of time, but when it goes on for months (or years in my case) it’s bound to take its toll. It will make it harder to lose weight, and it will increase stress. So my first goal is to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
So in order to start changing this habit of staying up too late, I need to figure out what the trigger, action, and reward is for me. You should do the same for whatever habits you want to change. It might be obvious what it is, but it also might take you a few tries to figure it out, and that’s fine.
In my case, I have a feeling the trigger might be the feeling of not having had enough time to decompress for the day. The action, for me, can be both surfing the web, reading and watching TV. The reward is going to bed feeling like I’ve actually done something that I had a personal interest in and perhaps learning something new.
One of the things I’ve found works for me is listening to an audiobook instead of reading. Personally I use Audible, and I set a sleep timer. That way I’m technically still reading before bed, but I have no lights on, nor am I reading on a tablet or phone, which emits blue light, something also known to disturb sleep.
I’ve been going to bed a little bit earlier than the day before, and this way I’m sort of resetting my inner clock, with small steps, which in the end means I get the sleep I need.
And my new reward, is threefold, because not only do I still feel like I did something I have a personal interest in, without doing something that makes it difficult to fall asleep. I’ve found that I also fall asleep a lot easier, and I actually feel rested when I wake up in the morning. And just as an added bonus, the fact that I’m now getting more and better sleep means that I’ve actually lost a few pounds without changing any other habits for now.
So I’m already well on my way to changing my habits to something that will help me reach my goals rather than hinder me. I’m gonna stick to working on this one habit for the next few weeks before I’ll start on another habit I want to change.
And this is what I recommend anyone who wants to change habits do. Start with one habit. Analyze it to figure out what your trigger, action, and reward is, and then start taking small steps toward changing that habit to something beneficial to you. When you feel your habit has been changed to something useful to you, then you can start working on the next one.
It’s important to not take on too much all at once, because, like I explained further up, thinking about your decisions takes a lot of energy, and if you have too many things you have to be conscious of all at once, you will most likely burn out and revert back to the old, not helpful habits.
So what are some habits you want to change? Have you already figured out what the trigger, action, and reward is? And do you have a plan for how you want to go about changing it?
Please let me know! I’d love to hear about your experiences!