January has come to an end, and so have some people’s resolutions. The healthy eating, more exercise and less sugar rules all become a distant memory and we are back to our old ways. How can we stop this and form a habit?
We often hear that a habit takes 21 days to form however, new studies that have taken place suggest it takes 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic.
About fifty percent of your daily actions are controlled by habits. From the moment you wake up to the second you fall asleep, everything you do is automatic – a constant loop.
There are several proposed models regarding how habits occur. The most common model is The Habit Loop which consists of a cue, a routine and a reward. This loop is a neurological loop that governs any habit. By learning and understanding this loop, we can understand how to change bad habits we have formed or how to form good ones.
The Cue is something that triggers a habit. Cues generally are linked to a location, a time of day, other people, an emotional state, or an immediately preceding action. For example, smelling some pizza as you walk past a pizza shop may compel you to go buy one.This cue tells our brain to follow its automatic response and it takes a lot of effort to resist this cue.
The routine is what makes this a habit. For example, the routine of smoking needs to be broken in order for this habit to change however, the habit of drinking more water needs to become part of your routine in order to form this as a habit.
The positive reinforcement of the behaviour is what makes us more likely to produce this behaviour again and form it as a habit. An example of this is the dopamine release we feel after a workout. The enjoyment we get from this feeling encourages us to repeat these behaviours.
One of the biggest New Years Resolutions is to lose weight. It has been proven that diets are extremely ineffective and you are unlikely to form healthy habits through dieting. Diets often just lead to unsustainable weight loss. Following the habit model, the best way to lost weight would be to -
- Identify your cue. Is it passing by your local takeaway on your way home?
- Break your routine- Change your route home to avoid your local takeaway.
- Reward- You’re rewarded with the satisfaction of resisting your urge.
The best way to break habits have also been proven to be slow and gradual changes. Going from eating a takeaway 4 times a week to none overnight just isn’t realistic. Slowly work your way to where you want to be and you will see the best results. A great example of this is a smoker that is trying to quit. Many smokers can’t go from a pack a day to nothing as it just isn’t efficient. Many use nicotine patches, nicotine gums or just slowly decrease their number of cigarettes per day until they feel completely ready to stop. This should be the same with any other bad habits and is the most effective.
If you fail with breaking a habit or starting one; don't feel disheartened. Around 81%-92% of New Years Resolutions fail. Formed habits are hard to break and change and it can take multiple attempts until you reach your goals. Don’t let yourself give up and think that your goals aren’t achievable. Slowly work your way towards them and try identify your own habit loop.
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