“We Become What We Repeatedly Do – Excellence Then Is Not An Act But A Habit” – Socrates
The power of habits has been known for thousands of years! They not only tell what you do but define you as a human being!
Habits are all of the automatic things you do daily from going to the bathroom every morning, biting your nails, or even checking your phone.
The keyword here is automatic. Habits are actions that are ingrained in your brain from constant repetition until they become second nature.
Now I want to make an important distinction here – there is no such thing as good or bad habits they’re just habits. But there are positive, negative, or neutral habits depending on your goals and what you want to accomplish.
If you have the goal of becoming a morning person, for instance, you need to sleep at a reasonable hour so that you can wake up early – so if you had a bedtime routine of alarm-> put on your PJs -> scroll through your phone before you go to sleep it could break down like this:
Positive habit: Having an alarm to start your bedtime routine so you can wake up in time. This is directly helping the goal you’re trying to achieve.
Negative habit: Scrolling through your phone. Even though there’s nothing bad about the act itself it could have negative effects on the goal you’re trying to accomplish.
Neutral goal: Putting on your PJs to go to sleep, it might be something automatic that you do before bed but it’s not helping or hurting your goal.
The secret to lifelong success at any goal you choose is by having more positive habits than negative habits. This will lead you to have the ultimate process to continually succeed at what you’re setting out to accomplish.
Because winners and losers have the same goals. Everyone starts the NFL season with the goal of winning the Super Bowl but the big separator between the Super Bowl champion and other teams is the processes and systems they use to get there.
Even though you become a super bowl champion by winning the super bowl – you can’t get to the super bowl without all of the other work you do in the regular season.
It’s that development and improvement every week throughout the season that leads you to ultimately becoming a Super Bowl champion
The New England Patriots – the winningest team of this century – have built a habit of winning. They practice more often than any other team and focus on the individual steps that lead them to their success.
The head coach, Bill Bellichick, further exemplifies this habit. Whenever he is being interviewed he refuses to answer any questions that don’t pertain to their upcoming opponent for the week.
Simply because nothing else matters, you can’t worry about reaching a future destination if you can’t take care of the task at hand in front of you.
He knows that if you look at the big picture you can get lost and lose focus on the immediate steps that you need to take to actually get to the Super Bowl
This is common with fat loss and general training progress as well!
A lot of people focus on a certain scale weight or number of inches they’d like to lose but that’s your super bowl, you can only get there by accomplishing what you need to do every week – things like hitting your calorie goal, hitting steps, working out, sleeping – and progressing over time.
This progression is key – we often think that reaching a goal like the Super Bowl or losing 20 pounds happens because of 1 big change but it’s really lots of little changes compounded over time.
Here’s a graph showing this exact formula.
If you improve 1% daily for a whole year – 365 days you’ll become 37x better by the end of it!
That’s the true power of habits. – if you focus on getting 1% better every day, if you focus on getting 1% closer to your goals every day then you’ll hit your goals in no time!
The Habit Loop
So now that we understand the power of habits let’s talk about the 4 stages of habits
Habits work on a feedback loop meaning they either work as positive reinforcement to promote doing the habit more often or they work as negative reinforcement to avoid doing that habit – and we’ll go more in-depth on that later.
The four stages of the habit loop are cue – craving – response – reward
Cue: the signal that a reward is near. Our brain is always looking for rewards so when it finds a semblance of one, your brain starts working on getting it.
Craving: the wanting of the state change that the reward provides
Response: the actual physical or mental action that you do to change your state – this is the habit itself
Reward: the state change that you were craving when we reach the reward the brain begins to associate the state that you achieved with a cue that led you here
A simple example of this is getting a notification on your phone
The cue is your phone lighting up.
When that happens you crave to be happy whether it’s from getting a like on IG, hearing from a friend, or just seeing that your package is being delivered.
Once you receive that craving your response is unlocking your phone to check your notification.
If you get the desired outcome you experience a dopamine high and that reinforces the cue and gets you stuck in the loop.
Now, whenever you get a notification you’ll get excited and want to open it.
This creates a habit loop and causes you to continually repeat the actions and once it is repeated enough you’re stuck in the loop until you become aware of it and make a change.
You can break a habit that is negative or build a positive habit by manipulating any of the 4 stages to your advantage.
1st Law of Habit Change – Make It Obvious
Whatever trigger you decide to use to build your new habit, it’s important to make it obvious. The easier it is to see and act on the cue the more likely you are to follow through with performing that habit.
You can do this in one of a few different ways the first being that you alter your environment to make the desired habit easy to accomplish
If you have a goal of eating more fruits and vegetables but you keep all of your produce tucked away in the bottom drawer of your refrigerator then it’ll be hard to remember to eat your fruits and vegetables.
But if you put a bowl out filled with apples, oranges, bananas, you’ll be more likely to accomplish this goal because the cue of seeing the food is apparent and obvious.
The second way is by using an implementation intention – you will be setting the intention to commit to the new habit
“I will do [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] and [LOCATION]”
So you can say I will go on a ten-minute walk at 4 pm, outside the office
It’s important you speak out or write out this intention so that your brain will be looking for the cue to begin taking action on the desired habit
The last thing you can do to make a habit more obvious is by using a technique called habit stacking.
This is where you take a current habit that you do and follow it up with a new habit that you’re trying to implement
To put it in a statement:
“After [current habit] I will [new habit]”
“After I use the bathroom in the morning, I will drink a large glass of water”
“After I brush my teeth, I’ll log my food for tomorrow”
You can get creative here so that you can make a current habit help guide you into a new habit.
The 2nd Law – Make it attractive
To perform a habit easier, you want to make it something that you want to do, something that you crave.
A technique I use with clients is called temptation bundling which is a form of delayed gratification.
You do this by pairing the habit you want to do with a new habit that might be difficult to do.
So something like:
“After I go to the gym, I will go out with my friends.”
“Once I get my meal prep done, I’ll watch my Netflix show.”
Finding something that you would like to do or enjoy doing will help push you to follow through on the new habit you’re trying to develop
Another thing you can do is join a culture that fits the goal of what you’re trying to accomplish.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “you’re the total of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Well, there’s a lot of truth to that.
Humans are highly social creatures and we enjoy to be included in something bigger than us so if we find a group of people that are doing what we’re already trying to accomplish we’ll be more motivated to act in accordance with the culture of that group
So finding some gym partners, a local running group, taking part in a fitness class are all things you can do to help with your habit of wanting to become more fit or healthier.
The 3rd Law -Make It Easy
This is where the real change happens – this is the actual act of the habit being done!
There’s a huge difference between motion and action – a lot of times we’ll get caught up by the paralysis of perfection. This is when we want to have the perfect plan before starting a new habit but that doesn’t do much for you
You don’t need perfection – you need to take action! Otherwise, you’ll find yourself stuck in the same place.
Motion might feel like you’re getting things done but you’re just planning to get things done. This might make you feel comfortable but in reality, you’re not progressing forward.
To build and engrain a long-lasting habit you need to act on it – and not for a certain amount of time but a certain number of reps.
Your current habits are there because of 100’s if not 1000’s of repetitions, your new habits will need to be repeated a similar number of times to become automatic.
It can be hard to muster up the motivation to continually repeat a new habit day in and day out, so you need to create as little friction between you and your desired habit as possible.
You can do this by priming your environment so there are fewer steps between you and your desired action.
For instance, if you want to work out after work, having your gym bag in your car will make it easy to go straight to the gym after your shift.
If you want to eat healthy for lunch, bringing in your lunch will make that decision easier for you and you won’t be tempted by nearby fast food options.
You can also downscale the action to make it easily actionable for you to follow through with.
I like to use the 2-minute rule for this situation, choose a habit you want to commit to and do it for only 2 minutes.
So if you have a goal to start running more instead of mustering the willpower to run 15 minutes a day every day, make it 2 minutes a day!
If you want to start reading in the morning – instead of setting the goal of reading a chapter every morning scale back and read 2 pages every morning instead!
The important thing is that you are taking action on the habit and putting in the reps to automate it. You don’t have to do it all in one day but you do have to do something!
This makes the habit so simple and easy that you can repeat frequently without fail and once you can commit to those small actions frequently enough you can scale up to more difficult tasks.
The 4th law – Make it satisfying
This one will be simple, follow up on the action of the current habit you did and reward yourself.
For example, if you were productive for 30 minutes at work, you can relax for 5 minutes
Another way to make doing a habit satisfying is by using a habit tracker. A habit tracker is just a simple way to keep track of how consistent you have been with performing, by measuring how consistent you’ve been you will always want to continue keeping the streak alive.
A simple example being marking an x on a calendar to show that you completed the habit for the day.
Having a visual like this will make you want to continue keeping the streak alive, marking each x gives you a little dopamine response and it becomes enjoyable to execute
Now to break a negative habit you will just do the inverse of all the things we discussed
Instead of making it obvious – hide it.
Instead of making it attractive, make it unattractive – highlight the pros of not doing the old habit.
Instead of making it easy, make it difficult – put as many obstacles between you and the habit as possible.
Instead of making it satisfying, make it unsatisfying. You can get an accountability partner that you would hate to let down.
Habits are the backbone of any great transformation. They not only determine the actions you take but the person you become.
Instead of focusing on the outcomes of your weight loss progress, shift focus to the habits that you need to build to get there. Without the appropriate habits, you will lose sight of what’s important in reaching your goals. Not to mention inevitably gain all of the weight you lose back as you revert back to the old habits that led to your weight gain in the first place!
If you need help building the habits needed to become the person you’re looking to become, CLICK HERE to set up a free strategy call!