They're Your Habits, Do What You Want With Them!

Everyone knows the word habit, and how it can reference an action good or bad. But how many of us can say we understand what a habit really is or why sometimes it can be almost impossible to break a habit if it’s the kind causing harm. A paper published from a research at Duke University showed that more than 40% of the actions people make each day are not decisions, but habits. That is why a lot of the “choices” that we look back upon and wonder why they happened leave us puzzled!

What is a habit?

A habit consists of 3 parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. Something triggers us, a routine follows, and then a reward follows. When a habit emerges the brain stops fully participating in decisions, and goes into auto pilot mode. The real danger here is that habits are so strong that they shape our lives, “so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense”.

The Cues

If there is a habit you would like to take control of, or one you would like to create (mindless snacking or poor food consumption, starting regular exercise, controlling emotion), assessing the things that predetermine an action is a great start. As far as diet and weight loss, pay close attention to what you eat, when, and why. A food journal is an awesome way to be certain you understand this. Studies show that planning to journal once a week is enough to start a change. You may see a pattern that you weren’t aware of before, and now you can plan ahead!

You notice that you snack when under stress, so you can plan ahead! Decide that instead of mindless snacking when you need a break to go for a walk and clear your mind, a healthier choice and better way to deal with stress also! Or, you can plan a cue to encourage you to treat your health better; keeping a food journal will be your cue to take care of your life, so along with a healthy diet, you may start wanting to get more activity in your daily life so you join a gym or start jogging twice a week.

The Routine

Realizing the cues that ignite a routine means that you can plan to replace the routine that follows a cue, or implementing a new cue into your life so that you can start a beneficial routine (food journal). The routine is the action that leads to the reward or the satisfaction of a craving.

Your friend is smoking at break, you get out a cigarette and light it up, and your brain tells you that you feel satisfied. The routine is smoking a cigarette, if you can plan ahead to change out the cigarette with a peppermint or any better option, you are making a change to the bad habit. You will still receive the cue or urge whenever your friend smokes, but you will replace the routine of smoking with something you enjoy that is better for you!

The Reward.

This is the part that has created the habit, what the brain searches for. The reward sends out a response from the brain to the body in many different ways, endorphins, electrical signals, and many others. What happens is when something is cued, the brain anticipates a reward, and that’s when we have a craving.

You have a busy day so you decide to go to McDonalds for a burger and fries (the reward), but then the next time you have a busy day you start craving McDonalds… so you stop there again; before you are even aware, any time you drive past one of the many signs your brain starts sending the signal that a reward is on its away and then you get into a routine of going to McDonalds 3 times a week! In addition to the nasty habit, fighting it can cause other weird responses. Say you know it’s bad for you and you decide to not go there. The brain has already sent out a signal that good things are on the way! Not delivering the reward now has put you in a bad mood, for doing the right thing! Vicious cycle right?

This is why being aware of different cues and changing the routine to deliver a reward is the best way to break a habit. You know the things that are wrong, but doing the right thing is so hard if you just cut it out completely. Replacing the routine with something good for you is the best bet to overcome a bad habit. Also, setting up a support system has been shown to be very beneficial, like joining a gym or letting loved ones know you need their support.

But above all, we need to believe! Believe that we can change and that we have the ability and that we are worth it!

Ryan Sensenig

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