How to create better, healthier habits
“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.” – Charles Duhigg
In the New York Times best selling book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg he outlines many ways that you can change the habits that you experience in your daily life.
In one of the stories within the book he outlines how he would mindlessly eat cookies in the afternoon:
Every afternoon, I would go and eat a chocolate chip cookie in the cafeteria and sort of chat with some of my colleagues up there.
He knew that this was a bad habit and felt compelled to uncover the why of his cookie conundrum.
What can we learn from Duhigg’s story and apply that to creating healthier habits?
The Habit Loop
Charles Duhigg outlined the three main parts of a habit:
Cue > Routine > Reward
In the cookie habit the Cue was that he was bored, the routine was that he would walk upstairs and grab a cookie and the reward was eating the cookie and talking to his coworkers.
Changing Exercise Routines
So let’s say that you set a goal and you want to lose a couple of extra pounds, and one of the ways that you want to start running more. You wake up in the morning and turn on the coffee pot to brew a cup of coffee and you immediately sit down and read news articles on your phone for 10 minutes while you wait for your coffee to drip.
You think that this would be a perfect opportunity to take a quick two mile run around the neighborhood.
Most experts (and lots of studies) suggest that a person of average weight burns about 100 calories in a mile of running. Creating a new habit that includes two miles of running every day would burn an extra 200 calories every day would have the opportunity to create a 1400 calorie deficit every single week.
Over the course of a month you would burn 5600 calories ( 5600 calories / 3500 calories in a pound = 1.6 pounds a month or 19.2 pounds a year )
What does this routine loop look like?
The cue could be to putting the coffee on and putting on your running shoes.
The new routine would be to do a daily two mile run.
The reward would be when you get home and grab your fresh cup of joe.
Changing Eating Routines
Well we just created a new exercise routine! That’s good, but if we want to create sustainable weight loss we also need to make sure that we have healthy eating habits as well. Unfortunately Charles Duhigg’s cookie habit added a couple of extra pounds over the course of his job.
How could we use the same habit loop to take a look at our own eating habits?
Let’s say that every day that John gets off the bus on his commute to work, that he walks by a breakfast sandwich shop that has delicious smelling breakfast sandwiches.
He frequently forgets to eat when he leaves home and he grabs a bite to eat up to his office job.
How could John change his habits to avoid the extra calories that the breakfast sandwich? He could change multiple parts of the cue — he could eat a healthier breakfast at home ( might also save a few bucks! ) or he could ride his bike to work as the door he would walk through wouldn’t take him by the breakfast sandwich shop!
Plenty of ways for John to create healthier habits!