Every once in a while, something happens in your life that will help you make the changes that you want to make your life healthier.
In her book, Better than Before, Gretchen Ruben outlines how we can rely on the power of habits, and how those habits can help us to either make our lives healthier or not.
Habits can be complex, or they can be pretty simple. But regardless, they can be broken down in to three distinct parts: the Cue, Routine, and Reward.
Here’s an example of a very simple habit that I have: Every week night, my husband and I watch television on the couch after dinner. About a half hour after we’re sitting there, I get a craving for something sweet. Although I used to eat dark chocolate, I’d sometimes eat more than I intended. So, I switched to something more portion controlled – a protein bar.
The Cue sets off the sequence of events.
In my case, there were a few things that contributed to the cue – it’s not just sitting on the couch that makes me want something sweet; because I do that at other times, and don’t crave sweets. The time of day contributes to the craving, however watching television and completing my evening meal also make up the whole picture.
The Routine is the behavior that you want to (or don’t want to) cultivate.
For me, it’s the habit of eating after dinner – craving something sweet.
The Reward, is just that – what are we getting out of this behavior? What’s the reward?
Sometimes, this can get a little blurry – in my case, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Eating tastes good, and the brain is rewarded with calories and food. But it’s important to point out that often, the reasons that we start a habit can be different than the reasons that we continue to do it.
The more we do a certain sequence of events, the more that pattern gets ingrained in our behavior – the more it becomes a habit. In my case, the more I indulge in having something sweet after dinner, the more I will want something sweet after dinner.
So, how do you get out of a habit?
I see it year after year when folks make new years resolutions: They claim that they’re just NOT going to do it anymore.
“I’m just not going to have something sweet after dinner.”
Yeah – that doesn’t work.
What we need to do, is replace the habit with something different – or disrupt the cycle.
So, an example of that would be instead of sitting down in front of the television after dinner, I could do something different – call a friend, run an errand, read a book, or do a household chore. Anything that disrupts the cue is going to disrupt the habit.
The example I gave above was in the situation that I wanted to stop a behavior. But what if you want to start a behavior?
The best way to start a new habit is if you ‘peg’ it to something else that you already do.
Want to be more consistent in taking your vitamins? Take them before you brush your teeth, or have your first cup of coffee.
Want to start working out? Go before work, or if it’s more convenient, go after work, but make sure that you don’t go home first; drive to the gym on your way home from work.
Occasionally, we have these ‘clean slate’ (as Gretchen Ruben refers to them in her book) events that completely disrupt our schedules. These clean slate events make it easier to insert new habits or drop old habits with minimal pain.
Examples of these clean slates would be:
- a job change (maybe a promotion if it meant that your schedule would change along with it)
- moving to a new house or apartment
- getting married
- or divorced
- a birth
In just a few days, I’m going to be moving not only to a new house, but a new location. My schedule is going to be completely disrupted. So, I’ve been thinking about what health changes I want to make – what foods I want to keep in the house, which foods I want to don’t want hanging around. Although I’m not against eating desserts, having them available, and in reach is
Also, since we’ll be living near the beach, I want to start walking after dinner. Walking after eating is a great health habit. It helps digestion, lowers blood sugar, and leftover energy.
So, if you ever find yourself in a situation where your normal routine is naturally disrupted, that’s a great time to think
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