‘Change your patterns and you’ll change your life.’ We know this to be true.
But the question remains – why is this so important? And how do you create new patterns to override the destructive ones?
The truth is, a huge percentage of all we do in one given day is not based on the conscious decisions we make, but is done out of the habits we have created over time. And we need this to happen so that we don’t become overwhelmed with stimulus each time we do something.
If you think back to when you were learning to drive a car; everything was considered in precise detail. You had to give your full attention to each step: Hold the wheel. Look over shoulder. Indicate. Turn wheel. Then straighten up.
But if we had to do this every time for everything we do in a day, it would become overwhelming and simply exhausting. So our brains help us out by regulating common behaviours that we perform consistently over time. We don’t even have to consciously think about it, the behaviour is just automatically performed.
But what if our automatic behaviour no longer serves us? What if binge watching Netflix, scrolling social media news feeds and eating to self-soothe, procrastinate, seek comfort, control or all of the above is no longer contributing to our lives in a healthy way?
What do we do if we want to create new habits that will nourish our bodies and in the process create a life that excites us?
Cultivating the three steps of the habit loop process can help you design patterns of behaviour to create the life that you want and deserve to have. But first, understanding your current habits is a good place to start.
The first step includes bringing awareness to a CUE that triggers the habit. This could be a time of day, location, emotion or person that prompts you to perform a behaviour. For example, when I was teaching, Friday at 3pm (time of day) was a cue for my wine and cheese habit to begin. The cue would trigger a craving which would lead to the next step in the habit loop process – the routine.
The ROUTINE is the behaviour itself or the process of performing the habit. In this instance, the routine of driving to the shops, preparing a platter of cheese, crackers and chocolate (all the tempting C words!) and washing it down with a bottle of wine was the actual process.
And what comes next is the third and final step of the habit – the REWARD. Ultimately, this is the satisfaction gained as a result of performing the behaviour or in this case, eating the platter and drinking the wine. So for me, the reward was a hit of instant pleasure after a week of, what I considered to be, hard work. This reward works to perpetuate the cycle and encourages you to perform the habit again. Each time the end of a working week appeared, so too did the anticipation of my wine and cheese reward.
The only problem was the fleeting nature of the pleasure I experienced which was usually followed by a gut ache and moments of guilt-fuelled disappointment in myself.
I needed a new habit. One that was going to provide a more fulfilling reward. Like, on a soul level.
While it is difficult to completely eradicate old habits (they will always be there!), you can definitely work to override them with new and more fulfilling ones. Below are a couple of tips to help you bring this type of self-design to your life:
- KEEP THE SAME TRIGGER BUT CHANGE THE ROUTINE
In my case, the end of the week remained the cue but I focussed my attention on changing the routine. Instead of buying a mountain of 37 different cheeses, I set some boundaries around the food I was willing to consume. My new rule? At least half of the platter MUST be fresh food – carrot sticks, celery and capsicum became my new C word obsession. Guacamole replaced French Onion dip. And brown rice seaweed crackers became my preferred option. Which meant that there was only room for one type of cheese. But one quickly became none, as I noticed the nutritional satisfaction was a far greater reward. And I was still able to savour my moment of solitude and bliss with no hangovers; emotional or otherwise.
- PREMEDITATE YOUR CUE AND REWARD TO REINFORCE THE HABIT
For some, the reward may have to be extrinsic before it becomes an internal satisfaction. Use it as a stepping stone as you refine the habit making process.
- ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR VICTORIES
No matter how big or small; recognise your progress. It could be as simple as a fist pump or a quite spoken word to yourself. It all adds to the reward that will encourage you to perform the habit again. And again. And again.
- DESIGN YOUR ENVIRONMENT TO MAKE IT EASY TO IMPLEMENT THE NEW BEHAVIOUR
Use an alarm clock instead of your phone to wake up. Remove junk food from your house. Set out your exercise gear on your bedside table before you go to sleep. You get the idea – make it easy for yourself.
- BE SPECIFIC
For example, saying that your goal is to read more, isn’t enough. However, setting the intention to read a particular book for 10 minutes in that chair at 8pm is going to give your brain the information it needs to execute.
Most of all, throughout the entire process be kind to yourself. If fear is the driver of your new behaviour, you will run out of steam. Our bodies were not designed to withstand that type of long term pressure. You have to be coming from a place of support and compassion for yourself. So use this an opportunity to better understand YOU and why you do the things you do. You’re worth the effort.
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Patti Williams is a Health Coach, Speaker and self-confessed Smoothie Addict. She delivers personal and professional development programs with an emphasis on health, leadership and meta-cognition. Her mission is to teach women all over the world how to nourish their body & mind and in the process create a life that excites them.