First we have to recognize that once a habit is formed in our brain, it never goes away. It can be modified if we practice, but two things remain: the cue and the reward. The routine is the part we can change. Take drinking alcohol for example. Often folks begin drinking because they are around other people in a social setting. So the cue is being in a social setting or wanting to feel connected to others. Then they develop the routine of drinking when they get that cue and then experience the reward of feeling connected or relaxed. So over time, every time they are in a social setting or want to feel connected they are cued to drink. That is one part. The next part comes later. Over time, the reward of feeling connected or relaxed is achieved by the routine of drinking alcohol. So when a person desires the reward of feeling connected or relaxed, they automatically go to the routine of drinking.
The cues and rewards will always be there, but the routines can change. With practice and some self awareness, when a person is cued to drink in a social setting, they can drink a cup of coffee or tea or chew gum…or whatever ya can think of. Over time, the reward of feeling connected to others or relaxed is associated with a new routine. What eventually happens when a person seeks that same reward is they will find themselves craving to drink a cup of coffee or tea…or chew gum..and less likely drinking alcohol. We can actually create and control our habits!
That is a very simple explanation of how habits work. How do we apply that to exercise or nutrition? Easy:
- Pick a goal (lose ten pounds, build muscle, feel better, look better, bench more, run a 5k race…etc.)
- Make a plan
- Create a cue…here are a few
- the alarm goes off
- ya listen to music on your way to the gym
- you open the fridge
- ya meet up with friends
- ya drink a cup of coffee
- Create a routine with the cue
- the alarm goes off and ya go for a jog, or do push ups
- when the fridge is opened ya grab a veggie
- begin training with others
- begin a sport
- ya do a workout after drinking coffee
- go play at a park
- Create a short term reward with the routine (some will happen automatically)
- by going for a jog ya feel more energy, confidence and alert
- improved mood, behavior and memory
- having fun
- the veggie take the edge of hunger
- by training with others ya feel connected or happier
- get a smoothie or healthy snack after your workout
Whether your goal is to build muscle, lose fat, improve energy or just be happier, know that it can be done and you can do it. It is just a matter of picking the goal, creating a plan, making a cue to each routine and a reward (many of which happen without us knowing) for each routine. Then you will have formed a habit and people will be asking how YOU do it!
Wanna learn more about this topic? Then I highly recommend two books: The Power of Habit and Brain Rules….listed below.
Pubmed.com, 2006;8 Suppl 2:S3. Epub 2006 Jul 28.