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Habit: the key to lasting change




Change is difficult, although not impossible. Breaking a bad habit and replacing it with a new healthy habit takes a pretty serious commitment and lots of dedication. Whether it's a desire to quit smoking, eat healthy, or exercise daily, implementing a new routine can be daunting, all-consuming, and exhausting.  


I'm reading a fascinating book all about how habit can make us or break us. "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business," by Charles Duhigg, talks about how hundreds of little habits get us through the day-to-day without having to make every single teeny-tiny decision.  


For example, have you ever been sitting in your car in your driveway one minute and then the next thing you know you're pulling up to your office without the slightest memory of the commute, like you drove to work on autopilot?  


Maybe you were distracted -- talking on your phone or listening to NPR. Either way you didn't have to make a single conscious decision to get to your destination. That's habit. It helps us make hundreds of decisions like this every single day, from showering in the morning -- wash face, wash hair, condition hair, wash body, rinse body, rinse hair -- to getting ready for bed in the evening -- pack lunches, clean kitchen, lay out tomorrow's clothes, wash face, brush teeth, read, sleep -- and everything in between. 


I can't imagine how exhausted my brain would be if I had to stop, think and analyze every single move I made every day, can you? In this sense, habit is a good thing, but we all have bad habits we wish we could break or replace with a healthier one.  


In "The Power of Habit," the habit cycle is broken down into three stages: the cue, the routine and the reward. For example, many people (including myself) have a habit of snacking at night out of boredom. The cue is the actual feeling of being bored, the routine is digging through the freezer in search of ice cream, and the reward is the stimulation of eating.  


Once you identify your own habit loop, the easiest way to change is to keep the cue and the reward the same but replace the negative routine for a positive routine. Now when that stir-crazy feeling of boredom hits while Ryan and I are watching TV I know what's coming and I know what to do: laundry, a few sets of sit-ups, read, text a friend -- anything but head to the kitchen.  


The cue is the same, the reward of being stimulated is the same, but I've replaced eating out of boredom with a better (lower calorie) option. And although my new habit cycle doesn't come as automatically as heading to the fridge, it is getting easier and slowly ingraining into the primal part of my brain.  


Imagine the possibilities for positive change in your own life by implementing the habit loop. Want to start your weekdays with a morning run? Lay out your workout clothes the night before somewhere you'll see them first thing in the a.m. Put them on first thing. That's your cue to run. Now run. You'll be rewarded with those fantastic endorphins. Do it every day and before you know it, you've got yourself a new healthy habit.  


Leah Sullivan of Columbus has been on a productive journey to a healthier lifestyle and shares some of her experiences with Dispatch readers. Follow {Nourish} on Facebook.



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