Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Do you have a habit you want to change? It might be something positive you want to start doing such as eating healthy food, exercising or it could be something you want to stop doing such as smoking, eating sugar etc. Either way you have probably spent a lot of mental energy especially around New Year trying to change these habits. Whether you are successful, or not, depends on many things.
What exactly are habits and why are they important?
Studies show that about 40 percent of our daily activities are Habits. Habits are actions that you perform automatically every day. So, habits are a big part of your life - and often you don’t even notice it!
Habits are our brain’s way of increasing its efficiency. Our brain turns daily actions and behaviours into habits, so we do them automatically, this frees up our brainpower for other more important challenges that allow us to function better in life. Just imagine if you have to think about every single task you do. We’d spend our whole time thinking about every little action. If you have a driving licence, do you remember when you were learning to drive a car? You carefully considered every small action you took! But after driving for a while many of the actions became habits which you now do automatically.
Research has discovered a neurological process that is at the core of every habit. This simple 3-step loop is very powerful – it is hard-wired into our brain.
1. Cue – is any trigger that tells your brain when and which habit to use.
2. Routine – is an activity, emotion or behavior that results from the cue.
3. Reward – how you feel after the action (and the reason for doing the action).
Your life today is essentially the result of your habits. When you learn to change your habits, you can change your life.
How can you change your habits?
A lot has been written about breaking bad habits and creating good habits by neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and doctors. The time they say it takes to change a habit varies from 21 days to 254 with an average of 66 days. Some habits are more difficult to change than others.
I think we all have habits that we would like to change or new habits that we would like to adopt. But it isn’t always easy unless you have a great deal of will power. So today I would like to share with you a couple of books I have come across recently.
These 2 books have some simple ideas to make the process easier.
The first book Feel Better in 5 is written by Dr Rangan Chatterjee and it has become an international bestseller. Dr. Chatterjee, is a medical doctor from the UK. He talks about simple, effective ways you can transform your health in 5 minutes a day in digestible ‘health snacks’ (which are not food). He suggests that by just spending 5 minutes a day on 3 different activities, one each for the body, mind and spirit we will feel better.
I liked his suggestion for creating a habit by attaching the new habit to an already well-established habit such as cleaning your teeth or making a coffee. In fact, he shares that he has created a 5-minute morning exercise habit. While he is making his morning coffee, he does a 5-minute intense exercise routine.
I found out about this book on a Marie Forleo podcast where she interviewed Dr Rangan Chatterjee. It is an interesting interview and you can listen to it here, if you’d like to.
The second book is Atomic Habits by James Clear, the main message of Atomic Habits is quite similar to Dr Chatterjee’s. He suggests that it is better to do something than nothing. To start small and build up. By changing your habits by 1% will compound (like compound interest – remember that from school) into huge improvements over time. So, he suggests for example, if your aim is to meditate for 20 minutes you should start really small with say 2 minutes and then increase the time by 1 minute a day until you reach your goal.
James Clear says that most of your bad habits are caused by two things stress and boredom. To overcome the bad habit, it is necessary to recognise the cause and understand that all habits good and bad have some sort of benefit (Remember the 3-step loop I mentioned earlier - Cue – Routine – Reward)? This is why it's very difficult to just get rid of a bad habit and why advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works. Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.
So, what did I take from all of this? Both Dr Chatterjee and James Clear seem to be saying similar things. Start small, something is better than nothing. Add a new habit to an existing habit to provide the cue (or trigger) to do it.
To find out more about habits you can use these links to get your own copy of Feel Better in 5 or Atomic Habits ( In full disclosure this is an affiliate link which means that if you buy the book, I get a small commission but it makes no difference to the price you pay)
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