A habit can be described as a response to a cue that yields a reward. It is the end of the work day (cue), so you grab a cupcake (response) to feel a few fleeting moments of comfort (reward). Creating new habits by changing old ones requires you to figure out your own cue, response, and reward pattern. Once you know the reward you are trying to achieve you can figure out new more positive behaviors for achieving it. Most of us aspire to come home after the work day and exercise but all too often we just go for the cupcake. Why is it so hard to break the habit even when we know what we are supposed to do? Because our body is geared up to follow its usual process and that takes awareness and discipline to disrupt.
Our habits can be very complex with such ingrained routines we don't notice we are following them. We need to bring the routine back into our awareness to exert our free will of choice over it. Here are a few tips for creating a new habit:
1. Use tangible cues. When I want to run after work I wear my sporty watch all day. Every time I look at my watch throughout the day, I know that I've made a commitment to myself to run. When I get home my usual non-running routine is averted because I've inserted a new cue.
2. Encourage yourself. When you follow your new routine recognize it by congratulating yourself. Allow yourself to be present in the moment and realize that you followed through on a commitment to yourself. Take notice of how good you feel, so you will learn to crave that reward. After I run and during my cool down I metaphorically pat myself on the back. I take stock of how good the new routine felt and how much of my day I still have left after just a 30 minute run.
3. Don't discourage yourself. There will be a day, even many days, when you won't follow your new routine. But the key is not to self-sabotage yourself into thinking that all the days with the new routine were a waste. On a day that you do follow through with your new routine create a list of potential sticking points and write responses to those. If a work call crops up and derails your run, what is the backup plan? Can you run a shorter run the next morning and resume your new routine in the afternoon? Can you plan a weekend trip like hiking to "make-up" the lost exercise? The key is to be flexible with yourself, so you can overcome obstacles and still achieve your long-term goal.
Overcoming existing habits is challenging but doable. Once you become aware of the habit you want to change you can use your strengths to make the change. Think over the habits you have that you are proud of (this can be as simple as going to work each day) and let yourself imagine adding in more good ones. You will improve your life.