Everything we do comes down to habits.
A habit is defined as:
“a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up”
But they can also be known as any action we do without conscious thought.
Picking up your phone when you get a text? That’s a habit.
Making coffee first thing in the morning? That too.
When looking to transform our bodies, lose weight, pack on muscle, and improve our health, we look to build new habits and change our existing ones.
But how do we do this?
Enter The Habit Loop:
This design, inspired by James Clear and his new book, Atomic Habits.
The habit loop explains the cycle of any habit formation. First, is the cue, for example, your phone buzzes. You then get a craving to pick it up and find out what the notification is. This leads to the response of grabbing your phone, and you’re rewarded with the knowledge of what the notification was. It’s getting to grips with this cycle that will help us become aware of both our good and bad habits. If you want to change something, you have to be aware of it.
James recommends using a habit scorecard to write down all habits, both positive and negative, that way, you are in a better place to change the ones that don’t suit your goals. Have a think next time you crave some junk food, what was the cue? If you’re aware of the cue, you can then place a new craving/response to it. For example, if you get stressed at work, can you respond with some meditation/breathing instead of reaching for the chocolate?
Now we’re aware of this loop, how do we go about building in new habits?
The 4 Laws of Habit Building
Again, credit to James Clear for these 4 laws:
1 – Make it Obvious
To adopt a new behaviour, you need it to be made aware to you at all times. Designing your environment can help you set up new habits and break bad ones. For example, if you’re trying to eat more vegetables and less junk food, then shopping for veggies and not junk will help prep your environment.
You can increase your chances of success by being specific with your new habits and writing implementation intentions. In a study with 3 groups looking to improve exercise, the group that wrote down when, where, and for how long they’d exercise for increased theirs the most.
It works like this:
“I will exercise for 20 minutes a day after work at the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays”
See? If you’re specific with your new habits, they’re more likely to stick.
The last tactic you can use in making it obvious is to use ‘habit stacking’. This is where you add a new habit on to a pre-existing one. For example, if you want to start prepping your lunch for work, you could do that when you cook your evening meal the night before, or your coffee in the morning. By stacking new habits onto old ones, you’re sharing the same cue and creating a habit chain.
2 – Make it Attractive
Sometimes our healthy habits are not all that interesting. Having pizza and a beer is much more appetising than veggies and potatoes. Of course, there is time for both, but we want to be eating the latter if we want to improve our health and weight loss.
So how do we make these things attractive to us?
Temptation bundling is one method James discusses. This is where you pair a habit you have to do with the one you want to do. For example, let’s say you want to watch TV, but you want to add exercise into your life. You could say, “when I get home from work, I will run for 30 minutes, and then watch 30 minutes of TV”. That way, you’re fulfilling both of your desires.
Another way to make something more attractive is to join a community or an environment where your new habits are commonplace. It’s hard to adopt a new behaviour if all of your current social circles are the complete opposite with their current lifestyle. However, it’s easy to go to the gym if your friends all go as well.
3. Make it Easy
This is one I talk about a lot, all the time we try and start with a million changes at once. Scale things down, focus on one thing at a time, and make it so easy you can’t say no. Exercising 6x a week for 1 hour 30 minutes may seem so far from where you are now.
So why not start with 20 minutes?
The ‘2-minute rule’ is a great place to start. Whatever you want to begin, start with just 2 minutes. It’s simple, it’s easy, and that way you’ll be more likely to do it. Seems small, but these small beginnings will add up over time.
And that’s what we can’t grasp in today’s society. The maths around being just 1% better every day. If we did that, we’d be in a dramatic place in 3, 6, 12 months time.
So stop trying to run a marathon before you can run for 10 minutes.
Another way to make things easier is to reduce the number of steps needed to complete your new habit. If going to the gym requires a complete life overhaul and a new routine and/or route to work, you won’t do it. Pick things that have fewer steps required for easy sync into your current routine.
4 – Make it Satisfying
This part is key. Without the reward, we have an incomplete habit loop, and we won’t do it again. For habits to stick, there needs to be some reward that compensates our behaviour. Seems stupid and animalistic, but that’s because it is an animal instinct of ours.
You can give yourself an immediate reinforcement for doing new habits. Of course, it would help if these weren’t food-related if you’re trying to lose weight. You could try saving money for a holiday, getting a massage/spa day booked after a successful week, whatever takes your fancy!
Another way is to use a habit tracker of some sort, this way your satisfaction can be keeping the streak alive. Whatever you decide to do, just remember to reinforce the behaviours you want to keep
Habits Take Successful Reps
There is no set amount of time that it takes to build a new habit, it comes down to the number of times you successfully perform it. Like practising a musical instrument, you get better when you actually do it, not just from the time that passes. The amount of practice time dictates the duration of the learning curve.
Again, credit to James Clear and his new book, Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend.