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Creating Habits that Stick

Written by Dr. Dane Donohue, Co-Founder of 8WW

Wouldn't it be nice when we decided to start a new habit that could dramatically improve our health that it stuck, like Velcro? One of my biggest frustrations in life, and a question that has driven me to create The Wellness Score and 8 Weeks to Wellness, is what drives behavior change? Why do some people "see the light" and change their unhealthy ways and others don't even care and it costs them their life. We know that many people are dying WAY too young these days and most of the people who died from COVID were either old or had preventable co-morbidities. Many and/or most people suffer a miserable existence in the last 10-20 years of their lives. We also know that this could have been prevented years before if people made some behavior changes and created healthy habits in their lives.

A habit is anywhere you find 3 things:

1. A WHY or WANT to do

2. A WHAT to do

3. A HOW to do

It is also the overlapping of 3 things:

1. A CUE- What triggers a habit (good or bad)

2. The ROUTINE- Something done automatically. Just "set it and forget it"

3. The REWARD or CONSEQUENCE- The effect or the behavior

Let's talk about 2 of my habits; one good and one bad. Let's take the bad habit first. When I get home from work some nights, I sit in my comfy recliner to watch some TV because I am mentally exhausted and want to just relax. My wife, my son, and I are currently watching all 6 seasons of Master Chef Canada, and we love it. This is the CUE. When I sit in that cozy recliner, I think "Hmmm, I could really enjoy something sweet or crunchy". Then I walk into the kitchen and get myself some ice cream or chips. This is the routine, it's triggered by sitting in my recliner. As soon as I do, it triggers the thought of something to eat. The consequence? Those extra carbs and calories add up and wind up on my stomach. I see them when I look in the mirror.

Now for the good habit: exercise. I enjoy exercise. I run and walk my dog at least 3-4 days a week in the early morning when it's not raining. I go to Cross-fit for 2 classes a week on Tuesdays (4:30 pm) and Fridays (9:30 am). Finally, I work out with 2 other Chiropractors at 12 pm sharp on Mondays and Wednesdays. What is the CUE or trigger that is the foundation of this good habit? The time of day, it's so unconscious now that I just know when it's time to leave for the gym or to go for my walk/run with the dog. I just automatically get going when it’s that time. I don't schedule anything else during these times and I've set up my life to revolve around my exercise, not the other way around as most people do. Set it and forget it. Most people think “I’ll exercise at the end of the day or early the next morning" but haven’t created the routine. They are missing the motivating trigger or cue. What’s a better trigger: meeting someone at a gym or relying on yourself? If you rely on yourself there's no accountability to get up or stay up and do exercise. The better motivating trigger is the friend waiting at the gym for your arrival. (Note that this friend got up early or made an effort to go to the gym knowing that you would be relying on them as well.)

Aristotle said "We are what we repeatedly do" and no truer words were ever spoken. We are shaped (literally) by our habits. To change them, we must understand the science of how they work, how they control us, and how to get leverage over them.

I recently did an interview and video podcast with a best-selling author and one of my mentors, Dr. Robert Silverman. We discussed a lot of great topics but the interview was on how to create healthy habits that stick. The show was about an hour long and I would encourage you to watch it as there are some real nuggets of great information that will help improve your understanding of healthy habits. Also, it will inspire you to make some real changes that will improve your most precious possession, YOUR HEALTH.

Click below to watch the interview:

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