I’ve been thinking alot about how simple habits drive most of our behaviors, especially around food. We eat the same things most every day. We drink the same coffee from the same coffee shop in our cars, drive the same route to work, or watch one particular news show, without any thought that these are just habits. What if our habit of eating a cookie every day at 3pm is just a habit, and nothing else? Can we change this behavior if the habit is not serving us well?
A recent article in The Boston Globe G Section interviewed Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit” . I found his insights into human behaviors and habits very intriguing and relevant to my work around eating well and exercising.
For example, Duhigg says (and I paraphrase) that every habit has three components – a cue, which is the trigger for the behavior, a routine, which is the behavior itself, and a reward, which is how your brain decides if it wants to repeat that behavior. If one can focus on changing the cue or the reward, one can change the behavior itself. He explains that behaviors are permanently stored in your brain, so just erasing them isn’t possible. But overriding them can be! By focusing on the cue or reward, you can override the behavior and thus begin to change the habit. WOW!
Cues are one of 5 categories- time of day, place, presence of certain people, emotion or ritualized behavior. Think about these cues as you are performing your particular habit. Begin being aware that the cues are driving your habit. If you can change a cue- the place, the person, the time, then you may be able to change a habit. For example, I often pick and graze when waiting for dinner. What if I did not wait in the kitchen, but went upstairs instead? This may supercede the habit. Now, think about the rewards. What is the reward for your habit? Let’s say your habit is eating a cookie at 3pm every day. What is your reward? Is the reward hunger? If so, then another food may do just as well. Or is it that you need a break from work? If so, could you take a short walk instead? Try and figure out what potential reward the cookie represents. Could you imagine another equally satisfying reward?
When it comes to over eating, attempting to break a bad habit without true awareness of the why or how just won’t stick. Willpower alone never works. Conscious thought, willingness to veer from the typical, whether it is a person or situation where you over eat, or a habital reward for a bad day, is the only way to change a habitual eating pattern.