Forty percent of our daily actions are habits. Habits are repeated behaviors that create an automatic routine; they allow the brain to conserve energy and avoid overstimulation. Habits happen in loops built from cues, routines and rewards.
Readiness to change and break free from habits is a predictable process that happens in six stages. Each stage reflects a person’s perceptions of his or her current health behaviors and the person’s motivations to change in the future:
- Believe in change. Have confidence in making a change and create a concrete plan of action.
- Choose one habit. Pick one habit to change at a time and focus your energy on making that successful.
- Identify your routines. Routines are physical, emotional or mental behaviors provoked by cues. Routines can be healthy, such as exercising, or unhealthy, such as binge-eating due to stress.
- Isolate your cues. Cues are triggers that tell the brain to go on autopilot. Environmental and situational cues include time of day, location, or certain odors. Emotional situations include work, stress and/or kids.
- Experiment with rewards. Rewards are the prizes gained for completing habit loops. Rewards provide a sense of accomplishment, happiness or relief.
- Plan. Planning is the cornerstone of successful behavior change and helps to teach self-regulation or the ability to resist temptation.