Updated: Jan 31, 2019
The level of health that you currently have is down to the actions and routines you have been doing over a prolonged period of time.
If you are happy with the health you have, then the actions and routines you are following are the right ones and don’t require changing (so the rest of this article is not going to be much use to you), but if you are unhappy with the health results you are achieving then change is needed.
One of the hardest things you can do and go through is change. To change something important and of value is more times than not difficult and uncomfortable. So changing and breaking your current unhelpful actions and routines requires effort and perseverance, which is also known as ‘motivation’.
The problem with motivation is that it comes and goes, and therefore can not be relied upon to achieve long-term change.
A more successful way is to change the habits that are driving the actions and routines.
According to research, up to 40% of our daily actions are powered by habits –the unconscious actions and routines we’ve developed over time.
If a good percentage of our actions are automatically driven by habits, how do you create good health habits that automatically get you to act in a more helpful way?
The following are the 3 steps on how to create a good health habit that becomes automatic.
Step One: Make It Obvious
The process of habit and behaviour change always starts with being aware of what you are doing. You need to be aware of your current health habits before you can change them.
By verbalising your actions you will raise your awareness of what you have been doing unconsciously and become more aware consciously of what you are doing.
To become more conscious, create a list of all your current daily habits. For example;
You wake up
Turn off alarm
Go to the toilet
Turn on your phone
Make and eat a carb heavy breakfast
Watch the morning news
Have a shower
Brush your teeth
Put your clothes on
Reply to emails and messages
Leave the house
Get in your car
And so on.
After making your list, check what habits are helpful to your health, which ones are neutral and which ones are not helpful. You will see clearly over a typical day what habits should stay and which ones should go if you want to improve your health.
Also be aware of the specific time and location each habit occurs. If there is a bad habit, changing the location can help stop that particular habit from happening. If you are not able to change the location, then an increased awareness can help lessen the impact of said habit.
Step Two: Environment Is Better Than Motivation
Following on from step one, understanding the role location and time plays in making habits automatic makes the process of change a lot easier.
We more often do things, not on why we should do them, but more on where we do them. For example, the majority of the time you walk into your kitchen it is going to be to eat something. Sometimes you will go into your kitchen to grab something that is not food related, but end up eating something anyway. And why not, that is what the kitchen is for.
Your environment is the invisible hand that shapes most of your behaviour. By changing your environment to suit certain habits, actions and routines, will greatly increase the automaticity of your behaviour. Making it easier to follow a more healthy habit and reducing the chances of performing a bad habit, without the need for motivation or willpower.
Step Three: Building Self-Control
Becoming more aware of your habits, actions and routines you are better placed to know what to change and what to stop doing. You will be aware of what triggers and cues in your daily life drive your habits and what to do differently when these triggers and cues appear.
To help be in better control of your actions, do the opposite of step one, make certain triggers and cues less obvious. Try and make them invisible.
People with high levels of self-control tend to spend less time in situations that are more likely to make them perform certain actions and drive bad habits. It is easier to avoid these situations than it is to try and resist them. For example, if you always have a cigarette when you have a break at work at the same time as other smokers, then delay your break time to after you normally do, therefore avoiding temptation. Even change the location where you spend your break.
If you are serious about improving your health, you first must be aware of your current habits, actions and routines that are preventing your goal from happening and how they will make any change difficult and uncomfortable.
Making it obvious what is holding you back and what change is needed to move forward will help you build an environment that will make the process of habit changing easier and more comfortable. Understanding what locations, triggers and cues drive your habits, will help you avoid or increase them and rely less on motivation and willpower.