THE WORD HABIT HAS A negative connotation to many. This is because breaking habits can be hard and creating new habits takes a lot of practice. Understanding the art and science of habits can help.
Here are 10 key concepts to help your patients (and yourself) build smart habits:
1) You can’t replace something with nothing
If you want to stop doing something don’t replace that something with nothing. The brain has pathways deeply associated with your behaviors. If you are used to doing something in a particular situation and you simply stop, you are not providing the brain with new pathways. This too easily allows the brain to drift back to its old pathways causing you to have to mentally inhibit the desire. This takes too much energy, and when a busy day hits and/or your energy is drained that behavior is more likely to return.
Instead replace something with something else. If you tend to snack between commercials then replace this with playing a musical instrument you have been wanting to learn, perfecting the perfect push-up or knitting. These new behaviors create new pathways and new associations allowing you to more quickly and effectively distance yourself from the old behavior.
TIP #1: Replace something with something else. (CLICK TO TWEET)
2) Activation energy is not your friend
Activation energy is the amount of energy it takes to start a task. If you want to go for a walk at the end of the day rather than watch TV, you need to make the activation energy for watching TV greater and the activation energy for going for a walk less.
For example, remove the batteries from the remote and then put the remote and batteries in separate places. This makes it far less likely you will watch TV because it takes much more activation energy. Now make sure your walking shoes are always by the door, or better yet, change the route you drive home so that you go by the park. You could also get a dog or have your friend meet you, both of which help you overcome activation energy. Now the walking habit is much easier while the TV habit is more difficult.
TIP #2: Make unproductive habits more difficult and the smart habits easier. (CLICK TO TWEET)
3) Too much all at once is exhausting
Change one thing at a time. Self-control is exhaustible, and the brain does not do well at multitasking. The part of the brain that is responsible for inhibiting behavior is the frontal lobe. Research shows the brain can not hold more than three ideas in focus at once, and is far more efficient when it focuses on just one thing.
Trying to change multiple things at once overwhelms the brain and drastically decreases your success rate. Try to change one thing, and you will be successful roughly 80% of the time. Change two things and this number drops to 35%. Add three things at once and now you will only be successful 10% of the time. The only way to effectively take on change is to do one thing at a time. Never try to change more than one thing at a time.
TIP #3: The only way to effectively take on change is to do one thing at a time. (CLICK TO TWEET)
4) Practice is essential
Brain cells that fire together wire together. If you want to make change permanent, you have to constantly expose yourself to the change. Practice makes perfect and habits are only formed through repetition. You need to set aside weeks to months to practice the new thing you want to do. Changing habits is really like learning a new instrument or mastering a new language. You can’t expect to be any good if you don’t practice.
TIP #4: Constantly expose yourself to the change. Habits are only formed through repetition. (CLICK TO TWEET)
5) You need crystal clear direction
The conscious, rational mind is great at setting goals, but it is also great at side tracking you with too much detail. If you want change you need to give yourself very clear direction and map out all the steps required. Avoid “paralysis by analysis” by keeping things simple and focus on the essential. Don’t just rush into change.
Take the time to map out the big picture. Then map out the essential steps to get there and follow them sequentially. You need to know where you are going and how to get there. What you might think is procrastination often comes from your own lack of planning and clarity.
TIP #5: Give yourself very clear direction and map out all the steps required to focus only on the essentials. (CLICK TO TWEET)
6) Motivation does not last
Willpower is exhaustible. You can’t win a battle of wills against your physiology. This is why managing your energy is important. You may think you are being lazy, but the more likely answer is you are exhausted.
Don’t take on too much. Don’t add new things into your life without first making room for them. Another way to avoid this mental exhaustion is to keep your blood sugar stable and create a good exercise regime. Both of these tactics keep the brain energized and reduce mental fatigue.
TIP #6: Manage your energy. Motivation and willpower is exhaustible. (CLICK TO TWEET)
7) Design the environment
Every change you make should be as easy or easier than the one it replaces. Make it easy on yourself and the brain. Remember the issue with activation energy above, as well as the issue with the lack of multitasking power of the brain? The brain gets overwhelmed easily, and it gets fatigued frequently. Both are the enemy of change. Construct your environment to assist with change.
Make a list of restaurants that have healthy great tasting fat loss options. Always keep a change of gym clothes in your car. Stock your desk, home, and car with quick fat loss snacks. What you might think is a lack of willpower on your part may actually be poor environmental design.
TIP #7: Every change you make should be as easy or easier than the one it replaces. (CLICK TO TWEET)
8) Don’t be a copy cat
What works for your friend or family member may or may not work for you. Resist the temptation to copy others. Use their experiences to refine and test methods that might be useful but don’t let their methods define your own.
You need to honor your own process. You have a unique metabolic expression, psychological sensitivity, and personal preferences. Make your changes fit your life instead of trying to fit your life to the change. Think smarter not harder.
TIP #8: Resist the temptation to copy others. Think smarter not harder. (CLICK TO TWEET)
9) Practice in your head
Remember, the brain cells that fire together wire together, and the faster they wire together the more likely you are to solidify change. You must practice, but practice takes time. One great way to practice behaviors is to practice them in your head.
Imagine yourself doing the behavior you want to make a habit. Play it in your head over and over again. Troubleshoot in your mind how you may manage obstacles that may come up in day to day life that may interrupt that change. Do this every night before you go to bed, every morning when you wake before getting out of bed and every place you can throughout the day. This mental “dress rehearsal” is key for solidifying and speeding change.
TIP #9: Imagine yourself doing the behavior you want to make a habit. (CLICK TO TWEET)
10) Build your support team
Social support is HUGE when it comes to change. Just like in professional sports you want to draft the best team to help you. Too often we try to make one person our sole support when they may not have the skills to help in that area.
Write down on a piece of paper who your go-to “players” are when you encounter stress. Your mother may be great at reducing emotional stress but awful at helping you figure your way through financial stuff. So use her for the emotional stuff, but draft someone else for the financial stuff.
Who is your go to person when you need humor? When you need career advice? Who is going to hold you accountable? Who is going to give you a pep talk and keep you motivated? Remember to draft a team that supports you and put those who are obstacles to change on the sidelines.
TIP #10: Draft a team that supports you. (CLICK TO TWEET)