By Dana Leipold
It has been said that our habits govern our lives. When we look at ourselves in the mirror and we’re not happy with ourselves or when we’re feeling less than optimal, we don’t intuitively think our daily habits got us there—as if something outside of ourselves did it to us. Ultimately, those little things we do each day add up to the lives we’re living right now, for better or for worse.
Coming to the realization that we CAN do something to change those habits is one thing, but what if building and maintaining healthy habits don’t come naturally to you? What does it actually take to build and sustain a new healthy habit?
How Habits Work
All behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem is that you notice something good and you want to get it. Sometimes the problem is that you are experiencing pain and you want to stop it. Either way, the purpose of every habit is to solve the problems you face.
The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.(1) The cue tells your brain to initiate behavior, which leads to the next step. Cravings are the motivational part of every habit, not the actual habit but what it will lead to. The response is the habit. Then finally is the reward—the end goal of every habit.
This four-step pattern is the backbone of every habit, and your brain runs through these steps in the same order each time. Why is it good to know this? When you understand what a habit is and how it works, you can then learn how to improve it.
Make Science Work for You
James Clear, author of the New York Times Best Seller Atomic Habits, suggests we use these science-based four steps to make science work for us in changing our habits.(2) I’ve been using his framework and it seems to be working for me.
As a veer toward my mid-fifties, I’m definitely noticing changes in my body…from young and supple to older and droopier. I used to munch on snacks after dinner while watching TV up until as late as 11:00 PM. I wanted to break this habit and stop snacking after 7:30 PM.
The framework for breaking a bad habit is:
The Paper Clip Strategy
In Atomic Habits, the author mentions the paper clip strategy for making a new habit stick, which builds on the basic premise: Success is often a result of committing to the fundamentals over and over again.
If you want to stop snacking after 7:30 PM like me, do more physical activity, finish chores before you do something fun, write a book, eat more healthy, or ANYTHING really, and you can’t seem to stick to it, using a visual cue is often helpful.
Here’s how it works:
Try it and see if it works for you (I’m going to do it too)!
(1) The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg
(2) Atomic Habits by James Clear