3 Things you want to know to make Healthier Habits easier

Have you brushed your teeth today? I’m guessing the answer is probably ‘yes’, at least once or possibly twice. Brushing your teeth is probably not the most fun thing in your world right now, but you do it, not because you enjoy it, but because it’s become a habit.

There may be other healthy habits that you are trying to change but that just don’t stick. Perhaps you feel like you’re going round in circles: you try something for a few days, but it doesn’t work, you get annoyed with yourself and with the thing you’re trying to change. You might look at other people who seem to have no problem keeping up their healthy habits, and you wonder why it doesn’t work for you. There may be other areas of your life where you have no problem keeping up some healthy habits, but for some reason you struggle with a few of them.

Of course, there may be other reasons why some habits and hard, perhaps they are emotionally tied, or are areas where you are self-sabotaging. And those are things will need some deeper work, but for habits that are quite shallow, things that should be very easy to change, then then this video and blog might help you!

To look at making healthy habits stick, it’s helpful to look at something that’s already working, like the toothbrush example. What is your cue to brush your teeth? When you brush your teeth in the morning, is it because:

  • you’re just about to leave the house?
  • you’re just about to get in the shower?
  • you just got out of the shower
  • you see your toothbrush and your toothpaste?

My cue is usually that I’m about to leave the house. If I have days working from home and I don’t go out first thing for the school run, then sometimes I realise that it’s about 11am and I haven’t brushed my teeth, so it’s going out of the house that is definitely my main cue.  

There are four elements to a habit that’s established. The cue, or a trigger is the first; then there’s a craving or desire, then the action, and finally the reward. Without any of those four things then it’s not a habit, because it doesn’t continue.  We can look at these four things to help us form other healthier habits.

1. The cue is something that reminds you to do something, it’s a trigger that makes you think about doing something. For toothbrushing, that could be seeing your toothbrush, showering, or leaving the house.

2. The craving or the desire, is the need to do it. Although toothbrushing is not the most enjoyable activity in the world, we’re driven by the desire for our teeth not to ache, not to fall out, not to get holes in them, or to go brown.

3. Those cravings or desires lead us towards the action of brushing our teeth.

4. The reward is clean teeth and fresh breath.

Regular toothbrushing is a very simple cycle that continues, and when it comes to other habits, we can use these stages to help us.

Think about how you can use cues and triggers with the other habits that you want to establish. Can you overdose on these cues and triggers? If you want a slightly healthier diet, perhaps you can use some visual cues:

  • Can you have things around the house that will prompt you to eat more healthily?
  • Can you look at healthy recipe books with pictures with loads of lovely bright colours?
  • Can you walk through fresh food and fruit and veg aisles in the supermarket before you go to the other aisles?

What can you do to trigger the desire to take action and give yourself more chance of wanting to do it?

And what about the cravings and desires? How can you increase these, and feed your motivation to want to change?

  • Can you read success stories about people who managed to learn a new skill or transform the way that they eat?
  • Can you surround yourself with people who are doing similar?
  • Can you really focus on your goals, and picture or vision what you want?
  • Can you do some research into what will happen if you don’t stick to your healthy habit?

How can you increase that craving or desire to want to do whatever it is you are trying to change?  

Think about how you can make the reward more immediate too. The habit cycle needs to include rewards that give our brains the hit that we’re looking for and that make us think “yeah, I want to do that again”. But sometimes with healthy habit forming, the rewards can be delayed, and that can be part of the reason why people give up easily at the beginning. So, we need to take responsibility to shorten that rewards cycle, and make sure we get some kind of reward for sticking to a habit. That could be a monetary reward, or patting yourself on the back, treating yourself to 5-minutes to sit down and read a magazine. It could even be something as simple as making a note when you’ve done something you’ve committed to do, marking the action off on a chart, ticking a box, giving yourself a sticker, or putting a marble in a jar to mark your progress.

If you can increase the cues and triggers that remind you to do things; if you can increase the craving and desire to take action by feeding your motivations and surrounding yourself with encouraging and inspiring things; and if you can make the reward for taking action more immediate, then it’s more likely that the habit cycle will continue. And where at first the action takes quite a conscious effort, will over time it will become a more natural habit.

We’d love to know what you might do to increase your cues and triggers, cravings and desires and how you might make the rewards more immediate – leave us a comment! We cover healthy habits and other behaviours in our 12-week Healthy Whole and Free Course. The next intake is in May and you can find out more and register your interest here.


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