It is evening at your house and time to relax, so you settle yourself down into your most comfy armchair, to watch your favourite TV program. Your hand is deep in a large bag of chips, and you happily scrunch and munch as you watch the TV.
It is a pleasure that most of us can identify with, and it may have become a habit. Now it’s hard to watch TV without a crunch to munch. And to top it all off, your weight is creeping up, with 20 pounds to lose, maybe more.
I have been thinking a lot about habits recently, the good and the bad, my own included. A definition of a habit is a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behaviour often repeated. The advantage of habits is they provide a short cut that saves us energy, effort and decision, in other words we can do something automatically without thinking. That is both the advantage and the disadvantage. When the habit is to stop off at a fast food place for food, instead of going home to prepare dinner, and it happens regularly, that habit is likely to cause weight gain. But we do it mindlessly and it gives us pleasure!
So what can you do to change a habit? Usually habits have a series of steps, so if you disrupt any part of it, it allows you a way in. So with the habit of eating chips while watching TV for example, you probably have a sequence you like to follow- a favourite spot on the sofa, favourite program to watch for example. It all goes together. Changing any part of this pattern will ‘spoil’ the usual experience, but that is what you want, to change it.
Here are three tips to change a habit.
- Name the habit that you want to change – e.g. eating too many chips. Because habits are patterns in your mind, you have to be vigilant to change them and keep reinforcing the changes. Otherwise the hardwiring will pull you back into old habits, and before you know it, your hand will be back in that bag of crunchy chips!
- Analyse the cue that sets off the habit – e.g. the TV, your favourite program, the time of day, feeling you deserve a treat. In his book The Power Of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks humorously about his research into his personal habit of going down to the canteen every afternoon to buy a choc chip cookie. He wondered what made him want to do this, what was his cue to buy a cookie, and what was his reward.
- Identify the reward and substitute something else for it. Duhigg experimented with various rewards to see what lay behind the habit. He wondered if he was hungry for example, so he bought an apple to eat in the afternoon. He wondered if he needed a break from his desk. In the end he realised he liked chatting with his colleagues at the canteen and that the choc chip cookie was an excuse to go there. Instead, Duhigg decided to schedule a chat with a colleague every afternoon for 10 minutes, so he alarmed his watch at 3pm to meet someone he had prearranged it with. This helped him change his habit of buying choc chip cookies once he learned what the reward was. So with the habit of eating chips in front of the TV, you might make yourself a hot drink as a reward, or interrupt the habit by changing where you sit on the sofa or even wear gloves to avoid eating chips!
I’d love to know what habits you have started or broken and what are your tips? And if you are interested to finally change your habits around health and weight loss, click here for more info about my upcoming course, starting Oct 1st at 7pm. Limited to 20 spaces max.