“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time” Mark Twain
Old habit: Putting food into my mouth without thought.
Its day three of the 100 day challenge and already I can recognise that I have adapted the unhelpful habit of putting food into my mouth without thinking about it. Continuing in this vein will cause me the following problems,
Continue to stay the same or gain weight:
Without monitoring the food I choose to eat then I will continue to live as I have in previous years and that is what has caused me the excess weight that I am now trying to lose. Food that is eaten without thought has a tendency to be higher calorific, unhealthier food which again works against what I am trying to achieve.
Create a cycle of self destructive self talk:
The consequences of eating without thought is that it can often be followed by a stream of negative self- doubt and self- flagellation. Calling yourself names for your lack of discipline can lead to the self- fulfilling unhealthy habit of feeling bad and instinctively turning to food to make you feel better, a cycle I will talk more about in a later blog.
You may be eating for another reason rather than being hungry and needing fuel:
There are many, many reasons why people eat rather than hunger but over the past three days I feel my instant eating has been something to do with being extremely busy and rushed and grabbing food without thought or pre
planning. The end result is still ultimately a diet of unhealthy food choices.
The New habit.
Having recognised that I have an unhelpful habit that is jeopardising my success the next challenge is to develop a new helpful healthy habit. It is worth noting at this point that we cannot create a habit of what we don’t want to do, we must become clear on the details of the habit we are trying to create.
My new habit is to Eat purposely, only when I want to eat because I am hungry and then to choose the food in that moment that will be the most beneficial towards creating the healthy lifestyle I want for myself.
So how are habits created and how are we affected by them.
In the British Journal of General practice habits were described as ‘actions that are triggered automatically in response to contextual cues associated with their performance’. For example washing your hands is the action that follows going to the toilet. Cleaning my teeth is the cue to take my medication. It is in repeatedly responding to an action in the same way that we create habits and as easily as we have created the unhealthy habits that we can create healthy ones to replace them.
When working as a Life Coach with young people We all used the acronym REPOH to remind us how habits are formed.
R = Repetition The more times we do something it becomes
E= Easy The easier something becomes it becomes a
P = Pleasure When something is a pleasure you are likely to do it more
O = Often The more often you do something the sooner it becomes a
H = Habit
(Check out the video of us all demonstrating a REPOH on the great wall of China)
So here’s my tips for changing your unhelpful habits.
Recognise your trigger signs
This can prove really difficult at first because either the habit happens so fast you don’t even realise what caused it or there are simple so many of them you don’t know where to begin. Allow yourself the time to really work out what your triggers are, after everything you eat ask yourself the question. ‘What occurred that led me to eat that’? keep a journal of your responses and a pattern will appear.
Here are some examples of triggers I have recognised for myself.
Entering a petrol station = a snack to eat in the car
The snacks at the side of the till = one for the journey home
A trip to the cinema = popcorn
Other people choosing desserts = I should really have one
You get the idea. Once you recognise the triggers you can start to put plans into place to change the way you react to them.
2. Check in on your hunger scale.
Having recognised the times when I find myself reaching for food I needed to find a way to decide whether this really was an appropriate time to eat or whether it was simply responding to habit. This is when I came across the hunger scale, a simple scale that allows you to determine how hungry you are in that moment and allows you to set boundaries for how you react. I like the scale produced by Derbyshire Healthy Futures Service http://www.dchs.nhs.uk/assets/public/dchs/llb/tools/tools_1-11/4_DCHS_A5_4pp_The_Hunger_Scale.pdf
The scale moves between 1-10, 1 being beyond hungry, you feel ill and need to lie down and 10 being beyond full, that Christmas Day can’t move feeling. The suggestion is that hovering between 3- 6 is where people eat more comfortably.
By taking a moment before reacting to triggers to determine your score you can start to make healthier choices for yourself.
3. Take a moment to observe.
Having decided that you are indeed hungry and you want to eat this is where the decision you take next can make or break your resolve to eat healthy. ‘Have you ever used that saying, there is a part of me that wants to….?’ If you have been battling with these habits for a long time there is a strong possibility that you have created a ‘part of you’ that is programmed to help you get the things that you have taught yourself will make you feel better. The very thing that you now want to avoid. So, when faced with making a decision about what to do that same part is going to try very hard to convince you to go with the thing that makes you feel better. Now this is where a bit of practice, sympathy and dedication will make the difference. Firstly recognise the great job that part has played in giving you what you want. Recognise how good it is at helping you achieve what you want and reflect on how it may now help you to get what you now want. Remembering REPOH, your new reactions need to happen often enough to make them easy and pleasurable so that they can become a habit.
I strongly recommend that you really expand your goal so that it fills all of youre senses when you think about it, making it really strong to resist for example where my goal is to lose weight. When deciding what to eat I can visualise myself slim, I can see what I am wearing. I can feel how fit and flexible I have become. I can smell the aroma of the foods I now like to eat. After all when you are looking for a reason to follow the unhelpful route, we often use the same techniques. I know I can taste chocolate by simply thinking about it in great detail…..
4. Time to Habit Stack
Having determined your trigger, decided whether you are hungry or not and having reflected on what you are trying to achieve now is the time to consider pre-prepared routines that will help you maintain your new healthy habits. You probably have a number of these that you do unconsciously like getting out of bed, stretching, going to the toilet then cleaning your teeth, routines that you do every day without fail. S.J Scott author of Habit Stacking, 97 Small life Changes that take less than 5 mins suggests that a good way to create new healthy habits is to attach them to the routines you already have in place. It is important to ensure that the original habit that you attach it to is already firmly in place or the whole stack will fall apart.
Here is an example of my morning habit stack.
Get up, Old Habit
Weigh, New habit
Come down stairs tidy kitchen Old Habit
make a cuppa - .5 teaspoon sugar New Habit
Morning prayer Old Habit
Plan the days microactions and goals New Habit
complete the days blogs New Habit
Complete first microaction New Habit
Breakfast Old Habit
Each habit is conducted at the same time and place where possible. In setting it up like this I have a clear routine that I can follow that helps me create new healthier habits. By including a reflection on the reality of the situation, getting on the scales and spending time planning what my next move will be then completing my first task to make it a reality I start each day with a much higher motivation to make the rest of the day successful.
If you are not sure what to attach habits to think about the things that you love to do so much that you always make time for them and attach new habits to them.
Remember new habits take time to form so don’t make changes to your routines too soon or the new habits may fall apart.
For more information on Habit stacking including some of the pitfalls you might face read https://www.amazon.co.uk/Habit-Stacking-Small-Changes-Minutes-ebook/dp/B00JQHB67O by S. J. Scott
Finally celebrate your success
Whilst it is always nice to be rewarded in some kind of material way such as a bunch of flowers or box of chocolates, Learning to seek intrinsic rewards will bring greater levels of success. Here are four intrinsic ways you can recognise and reward yourself that will further enhance your success.
Increase your sense of meaningfulness, gain a strong sense of purpose
Increase your sense of choice, gain a strong sense of personal responsibility.
Increase your sense of competency, gain a sense of real satisfaction
Increase your sense of progress, gain an increased confidence in your ability to make healthy choices.
There is nothing quite like that sense of success when you have achieved something that you once doubted you would be able to!
So now it is time to put this all into action and let’s see what a difference stopping in the moment can make to the success of my 100 day Goal.