In our last discussion we identified the four stages of habit (habit loop)4 and analyzed how they affect and are affected by one another. Now we will take a look at how changing just one component of one of the stages in turn changes the whole trajectory of all subsequent stages and vice versa. Consequently; before you know it, you have established a new and hopefully healthier habit! Seems easy enough right? Well hopefully after reading the following it will be!
If you recall from Part 1 of Science of Habit Change for Weight Loss Success; we discussed why habits are formulated, which is due to the brain’s need to conserve space and energy for processing new information.3 As such; whatever tasks the brain can simplify- it will, hence habits are born. These habits devised of a cue, craving, response and reward eventually becomes a part of our daily norm and sometimes even our identity.
In order to disrupt what has been coined as a “habit loop” different cue, response and reward associations need to be assigned. That said, in order for these changes to be accepted by the brain they also need to be relatively easy to process and carry. Remember the brain in all its ability wants to work as little as possible!1
So how would this look in a real world scenario? Well let’s take the example of the coffee and doughnut habit from Part 1 of Science of Habit Change for Weight Loss Success. For this particular example the individual desires to break the habit of giving in to the need to indulge in a sweet and savory treat with their daily coffee. The first thing they would want to do is identify the cue which for this scenario- is the smell of coffee. Just the smell alone- taste buds AND brain begin to anticipate the sensations of the expected sweet treat. To prepare or better yet prevent this craving we can approach it a couple of ways. One preventative and the other responsive.
In the first approach, it is quite likely we can prevent the craving if it is a response to a nutrient deficiency. Many times we crave either sweet, salty or savory foods due to low availability of the daily recommended vitamins and minerals necessary for maximum cellular processes. So just by doing something as simple as eating a balanced breakfast we can reduce and even eliminate cravings. Ensuring our meals consist of lots of protein, fiber and healthy fats we essentially keep our blood/sugar and hormones leveled thus staving off cravings. As such, by the time the smell of coffee registers in your brain; because your body and brain is satisfied you eliminate the desire for the donut!
Now, let’s imagine you aren’t a breakfast person, but you absolutely MUST have your cup of Joe (or two) before getting your day started. Then one must be prepared to approach the craving another way, such as instead of grabbing a doughnut or pastry, now armed with the knowledge of how it will affect the body; you choose to pair it with a whole grain toast with almond butter! Some may say, “but that’s not going to taste the same” and you would be correct. But believe it or not over time you will either forgo the morning snack all together OR your taste-buds will change. Either way, one thing that can’t be disputed is the fact that not only are you satisfied for hours to come, you’ll also have sustained energy until your next meal as well. Hopefully that alone will be enough reason to stay the course long enough to become a healthy habit.
So as we enter into the second month of the New Year, remember it took days, months and years for your bad habit to formulate and it will take just a long to change it. That said remember in order to break a habit you MUST replace it with another one. As with goal setting, by addressing each step individually you can successfully create your new habit by first identifying the trigger, then preparing for the craving and how you will (or won’t) respond and lastly reassigning your reward system.
Habits may be hard to break, but if it’s preventing you from being your best self; then so is staying the same.
- Duhigg, Charles, author. (2014). The Power Of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks
- Clear, James (2017). Atomic Habits. Place of publication not identified: RANDOM House BUSINESS