“Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and the responsibility to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp and the only option left is to get to work.” Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit
FIVE RULES FOR BEHAVIOR CHANGE
The habit loop provides a practical framework for behavior change. Unfortunately, by the time we are adults, we rarely examine our habits. The neurological feedback loop, Cue, Craving, Routine, and Reward create our habits. We are continually learning to link actions with outcomes. If the outcome is unsatisfying, the behavior is forgotten. If it is gratifying, the routine is remembered and repeated. Each habit solves a problem.
The primary issue our ancestors faced was survival. They didn’t have 5-year plans. Anything that took more than a few minutes wasn’t given any thought. They needed food, water, shelter, and sex to survive. Each of these rewards provides immediate gratification. While we have evolved, our reward system hasn’t. It still favors immediate gratification over deferred gratification. This bias explains why we are all so susceptible to bad habits.
Our conscious brain, in charge of executive function, decides which habits to perform, but it doesn’t carry them out. It sees a familiar Cue and determines which Routine to do. Our subconscious brain executes the Routine. Habits live in our more primitive basal ganglia. We condition it like we would an animal, through rewards and repetition. The similarities don’t stop there. Like a beast, it is powerful and impulsive. It is always looking for a quick payoff. If we want to interrupt a bad habit, first, we need to identify the Cue that is triggering it. Then replace the bad habit with a good one. Understanding the habit loop is going to prove invaluable.
The Four Laws of Behavior Change developed by Atomic Habits’ author James Clear is designed to encourage good habits by reinforcing each component of the habit loop:
- Cue: Make it Obvious
- Craving: Make it Attractive
- Routine: Make it Easy
- Reward: Make it Satisfying
He reverses these four laws to break a bad habit. Make the Cue invisible, the Reward unattractive, the Routine harder to do, and the Reward unsatisfying. He does a fantastic job of providing practical suggestions for changing your habits.[i] James Clear’s book complements Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. The Power of Habit helps us understand habits, but it isn’t a manual for behavior change. Atomic Habits answers that need. I have a narrower focus; combining behavioral science with exercise science to transform your body.
Exercise science isn’t rocket science. Most people know WHAT to do. The problem is they aren’t doing it. Lean by Habit will give you the tools you need to bridge the biggest gap in life – the one between knowing and doing. You’ll learn to engineer healthy habits that will transform your body, enhance your mood and focus, and build your self-esteem and confidence.
A healthy mind cannot thrive in an unhealthy body because exercise promotes better brain health. It elevates numerous neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the body’s chemical messengers. Intense exercise increases two of the most common neurotransmitters — glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It also elevates other neurotransmitters, like dopamine which improves mood, and serotonin, which helps regulate mood and appetite. Exercise increases and balances the neurochemicals in the brain, allowing you to function at your cognitive best. You’ll start showing up each day better able to tackle life’s challenges.
Exercise is a keystone habit that promotes better behavior. Regular exercise has been shown to strengthen self-control. People that exercise regularly tend to eat better, drink less alcohol, smoke fewer cigarettes, watch less TV, and run up less credit card debt.
The Five Rules of Behavior Change:
- Shrink the Habit
- Tweak Your Environment
- Join a Tribe Going in the Same Direction
- Establish Habit Triggers
- Make Good Habits More Rewarding
“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.” Sun Tzu
These five strategies are designed to work together. They aren’t a collection of tactics from which you can pick and choose. Each is designed to address one or more components of the habit loop. Together they form a blueprint for behavior change. If you decide to pick and choose which techniques you’ll do and fail – you will never know if the failure lies with this program or with you.
If you have been struggling to create healthy habits, you will probably be familiar with many of the concepts I will share. You probably understand WHY they work, but knowledge isn’t enough. You must develop a daily implementation plan. After all, we aren’t what we know. We are what we do.
Behavior change isn’t easy. If it were, no one would have bad habits. We all know, knowledge, what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Please don’t’ make the mistake of underestimating the challenge before you. Give yourself the best odds of success. Ask yourself why you are going to fail? Why are you going to miss workouts? Why aren’t you going to stick to your meal plan? When are you going to be tempted to eat poorly? Reflect on past failures. If you’re struggling to improve your behavior, it shouldn’t be difficult.
If you want to change your life, you absolutely can. It all starts with your habits. Nothing changes our lives more than what we do each day. As you learn the rules of behavior change, I want you to develop a plan to avoid the pitfalls of your past. The more strategies you implement, the greater your probability of success. Give yourself the best possibility of success by implementing all of them.
Each behavior change strategy addresses one or more of the components of the habit loop. The more of them you engage, the better your odds of success. The most effective strategies encourage or discourage the habit at the beginning. You won’t reinforce a craving if you remove the temptation or cannot perform the behavior. You cannot make the Reward of a good habit more satisfying if you don’t do it.
The First Rule of Behavior Change, Shrink the Habit, is the most effective way to create a good habit. Shrinking the new behavior down so small that you can do it on your absolute worst day will keep your habit streak alive. Set the bar so low; you cannot fail. You can always do more when you feel motivated to do so, but never less. You cannot build on a habit until you have established it through repetition.
Repetition is the learning language of the subconscious mind. Set the bar too high, and you’ll never develop the habit; moreover, you’ll become discouraged and erode your self-esteem – the exact opposite of what we want to do. Set the bar low, build self-confidence, willpower, and motivation through small daily wins, and you’ll be much further along in five months than the person that set’s lofty goals but fails to create a habit.
The Second Rule of Behavior Change, Tweaking the Environment, is the most effective at breaking bad habits. It can also be used to promote good habits. We discourage bad habits by removing negative cues and making the bad behavior more difficult to do. We encourage good habits by doing the reverse. Installing positive prompts and removing as many steps as possible.
The environment is this invisible force that shapes our decisions. It is almost impossible to sustain good behavior in a bad environment. We want to design it to encourage good habits and discourage bad ones. Our reward system favors bad habits, so if you don’t engineer your environment to promote good habits and discourage bad ones, bad habits will win. No environment is neutral. Environmental design is a much better strategy for long-term behavior change than willpower.
Relying on willpower to improve our behavior is a losing strategy. Willpower will abandon us when we are stressed out, tired, hungry, lonely, or depressed. Emotions are hard to regulate, so any behavior change plan that relies too heavily on willpower is doomed. Based on the widely accepted theory of ego depletion, our willpower depletes with use.
Days when we are forced to make difficult decisions or exercise a lot of self-control, our willpower will leave us naked to temptation. If we remove the temptations that reward bad habits, we extinguish the habit without the need to exert any willpower. Shape your environment to make bad habits difficult, if not impossible, and make good habits easier. This stuff isn’t complicated. It doesn’t require a Ph.D. to understand. It isn’t difficult to do – if you are committed.
The more committed you are, the less willpower you will need. If there is no junk food to eat when tired, stressed out, and hungry, you starve the craving and extinguish the habit without resorting to willpower. Shaping your environment will shield you from temptation. If you aren’t committed enough to do what is easy, like removing junk food from your home, then you should probably admit to yourself that you aren’t serious about losing weight.
The most common excuse people give for not removing all the junk food from their homes is that they don’t want to deprive their children. Deprive them of what; a lifetime of sugar addiction? They are arguing to feed their kids junk food so processed it can hardly be called food. It is designed to create unnatural cravings, on par with illicit drugs.
If you cannot get rid of the junk food in your home, stop blaming your children. Having children in your home should be one more reason to get rid of the garbage, not keep it stocked in your pantry. Better to purchase these things in small quantities to avoid over-consumption; for example, ordering an ice cream cone is better than bringing a container of ice cream home.
Emotional cues like stress, hunger, exhaustion, and depression aren’t something we can control. The environment is. Environment; isn’t subject to the inconstancies that willpower and motivation are. We can use it to build good habits. I hope you are as excited to learn as I am to share these highly effective strategies that will make healthy habits easier than you ever thought possible! You’ll discover that it is not only possible, but it is entirely doable.
Lean by Habit provides all the strategies and tactics you will need to transform your body, but no one ever got fit by reading a book. Rituals reap results. Knowledge, not backed up by action is useless. That is why you are also going to learn the Four Elements of Execution:
- Shrinking the Habit
- Creating Habit Triggers
- Keeping a Compelling Scorecard
- Creating a Cadence of Accountability
Execution is your responsibility, but don’t be intimidated. I will only ask you to perform silly small steps in the beginning to create momentum. Once you have the habits established, we will build on them. You can do this. Don’t be discouraged if you have failed in the past. You aren’t doomed to repeat past mistakes. Armed with all five behavior change strategies, you now have a much better chance of success. You can do this! You will discover this for yourself in just a few days as you develop the healthy habits that will make you feel better than you have in years.
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[i] James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, Avery (October 16, 2018)