Have you ever set a goal to improve your health – say, that you’ll start going to the gym every day after work – and then struggled to stick with it after only a few days?
What You Know Doesn’t Always Drive What You Do
This is a common experience for many people. Based on my experience health coaching clients in the Wellness Center, most people recognize that living a healthier lifestyle could benefit their health and well-being. Most of us know that eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing sugary and salty junk food, and being more physically active would help us feel better and live longer. And yet, it can be very difficult to change our habits.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a book about making and breaking habits. One of the lessons in the book is that habits follow a cycle that includes a cue, a routine, and a reward.
- The cue is a trigger or reminder that starts the habit.
- The routine is the physical or mental habit.
- The reward is the benefit you get from the habit.
A Case in Point
For example, a friend once told me that she wanted to break her habit of binge-watching TV shows on Saturday morning. Every Saturday, she woke up, made coffee, and sat on the sofa to watch a funny show. She would watch as many as 10 or 12 episodes in a row, enjoying the time to laugh and relax. Later, though, she would feel sorry that she spent so much time watching TV instead of doing something more physically active or social with friends.
With this habit, the cue was waking up on Saturday mornings and making coffee at home. When my friend did those things, her brain automatically knew it was time to sit and watch TV. The routine was turning on the TV and watching sit-coms, and the reward was laughing and feeling happy.
To break the habit, she tried going out for coffee at her local coffee shop as soon as she woke up on Saturdays. She found that she almost always ran into friends there, and would enjoy chatting with her friends or the staff for a few minutes. She still got the same reward – laughing and feeling happy – but no longer felt the need to watch so much TV.
Take A Cue From Your Cues
You can use the same idea to break your own unhealthy habits. Look for the cue and the reward – what are they? If you can avoid the cue, try avoiding it. If you tend to stop for ice cream when you walk by a certain ice cream shop, try a different route! If you can’t avoid the cue, try another activity that might give you the same reward and see if it helps you break the unhealthy habit.