The Science Behind Making Lasting Changes
by Lauren Rundquist, Functional Health Coach
Do you remember the first day you ever brushed your teeth? Probably not, but I bet it started with your parents teaching you how to do it and perhaps rewarding you after you finished. Nowadays, you don’t even think twice about brushing your teeth. If you are like most hygienic people, brushing your teeth has become embedded in your morning routine. It’s not even much of a decision anymore, it’s something that you do without thinking. In fact, according to Wendy Wood, 45% of our decisions that we make every day aren’t actually decisions at all-- they are habits.
This model can be applied to anything you wish to establish as a habit in your life-- from meditating, to ordering a salad over a cheeseburger at a restaurant. I bet you're thinking to yourself “I’ve tried to create healthy habits in the past but they never stuck”. That’s because you didn’t understand the science behind how it really works!
Author and Pulitzer-Prize winner Charles Duhigg explains that every habit has three components, nick-named “The Habit Loop”.
- Cue; an automatic trigger that signals your brain to perform a habit or action.
- Routine; the behavior performed.
- Reward; a positive reinforcement that tells your brain the habit is worth repeating.
Most people focus on the routine itself, but studies show that it is actually the cue and the reward that are the most essential to establishing any habit. It’s imperative to premeditate the cues and rewards for yourself to make any habit stick!
For example, if you are trying to exercise more frequently, you may choose to lay out your workout clothes where you will see them in the morning (the cue). You also decide that after you workout (routine), you are going to reward yourself with something small like a piece of chocolate (reward). This may sound counter-intuitive when trying to get healthier and lose weight, but sometimes we need to trick our brains in the beginning.
Over time, the endorphins from exercising will take over as the reward and our willpower will become stronger so that eventually, we don’t even need the chocolate anymore-- and we haven’t deprived ourselves of anything throughout the process. The “decision” to workout will become just another thing we subconsciously do.
In fact, this exact study was done in Germany-- which concluded that the participants who were rewarded with a piece of chocolate after exercise were 58% more likely to exercise even 6 months later, compared to the people who were just told to “exercise more”.
This is how you teach yourself willpower and create powerful, healthy habits. We first have to become aware of the nearly subconscious negative behaviors (where our brains basically turn off) and then reroute them to something better. You now have the ability to change any habit in your life!
Do you need help implementing healthy lifestyle changes within your own routine? Sign up for your free intake call today and see how ND can help change your life!