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How habits can help you achieve your New Year’s goals

As we race into 2017, I want to wish you a happy New Year, and a healthy one too! Turning the page to a different year is viewed by many as a “new beginning”— a chance to set goals and start anew. So the big question is, how can we follow through and reach the final day of the year having climbed the highest mountain we set our sights on? Many think willpower is the key, but it’s something more.

I often have members who make up their mind to change behaviors they have been doing for a long time (being sedentary, snacking, overeating, or smoking), which are, believe it or not, often linked to our habits. One way to change behavior is by using repetition to create new habits and break old ones. In this post I will break down what habits are, how to identify one, how to go about creating new ones, and an example of forming a new habit.

A habit is a behavior or routine that is repeated, often unconsciously, and was acquired through frequent repetition. For example, the things you do daily like having coffee with breakfast, flossing your teeth before brushing, and eating a cookie each night before bed. Habits can be both “good” and “bad.” Habits are in our neural pathways and the brain is capable of changing, adapting, and re-organizing them as a response to changes in our environment or situations.

In his book, Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that every habit functions the same way: through cues, behaviors, and rewards. To change habits and achieve success at your goals, you will need to understand each of these pieces, how they contribute to one another, and how to interrupt what scientists and researchers call the habit loop.

  • Reminder (also known as cue) – A trigger that makes the habit unfold automatically
  • Routine – The behavior itself, or what you are doing
  • Reward – The benefit gained from doing the behavior or something that cues your brain to learn to crave the behavior

While these three pieces seem simple, changing habits can be very challenging. According to Charles Duhigg and other behavioral scientists and researchers, there are a few steps to get started.

  • Identify your routine – What you are doing that is the “habit.”
  • Experiment with rewards – When you feel the urge to repeat your habit, pay attention to the perceived reward. This part is hard and may take some time. Experimenting with various rewards is important in the identification process.
  • Isolate the reminder – The final step is to figure out the cue or reminder that triggers your routine. For example this can be stress, boredom, how you’re feeling, or others.
  • Plan – Once you have identified and understood your habit loop, you can plan to change the behavior.

Here is an example of putting it together. You’ve been getting home from work late (cue) and skipping your evening workout (habit) to watch your favorite TV show (reward). You have gained five pounds and you know that it’s because you aren’t taking care of yourself like you used to. You come up with a plan: You decide to try working out in the morning, so you set your alarm an hour earlier (new cue) and work out before work (new routine). You find that you feel really refreshed and mentally sharp all day at work (new reward) and so you continue to go to the gym in the morning. You can even continue watching that favorite evening TV show (reward).

It takes time to form new habits, but consistency is key. You also have to be willing to experiment a little along the way, too. But if you use the power of repetition in 2017, you are sure to reach those “new year, new you” goals!


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