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The Science Behind Creating Healthy Habits

Julie Tukuafu

READ TIME:3 min.

We all have habits—things we do without even thinking. Each of us is a collection of our good and bad habits. For example, you might wake up at the same time every day, or eat the same tuna sandwich for lunch, or watch the same show in the same spot every Tuesday night. Whatever it is, you can probably agree that it requires little-to-no brain power for you to actually execute these things. In fact, you probably don’t even realize that most of your day-to-day actions are made up of lots of little habits. To you, it’s just your normal routine. But…have you ever thought about what actually causes a particular habit to form? 

In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the science behind how habits take shape and how you can create lifelong, healthy ones!

The Habit Loop  

In the best-selling book The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg explains why we do the things we do. He talks about a three-part process called the “habit loop,” and every habit starts the same way. It begins with a cue (or trigger), followed by the routine, and then finally the reward. 

First, the cue is anything that triggers the habit. This part puts your brain into automatic mode so your brain doesn’t have to work as hard. Cues typically fall into one of these categories: time, location, event, emotional state, or other people. Let’s use time for example. If your trash has to be out on the curb every Tuesday at 6:00 a.m., then time is the driving force behind this habit. 

“…every habit starts the same way. It begins with a cue (or trigger), followed by the routine, and then finally the reward.”

– Charles Duhigg

Next is the routine, or the actual behavior. Still using the trash can example, the routine here would be going outside and moving your trash can to the curb. This action is then followed by the reward. In this case, the reward would be getting rid of garbage and clearing space so you continue having a place to dispose of your trash. 

So…now that we understand a little bit about why we form certain habits, let’s talk about how we can create new ones! 

Creating New Habits

How many times have you said, “I’m going to work out every day!” or “I’m going to start eating healthy!” While those are admirable, positive goals, they probably didn’t last long because they weren’t specific enough, and you didn’t have a plan to execute them. The brain is a tricky and complex subject that researchers will probably study until the end of time, but we do know that we can’t just throw out a general statement and expect it to magically happen. 
You can Google a million different ways to form good habits, but we liked the three simple steps that author James Clear laid out, which are:

To create a new habit, you must first simplify the behavior. Make it tiny—even ridiculous. A good, tiny behavior is easy to do—and fast.

– BJ Fogg

1. Start with a habit that is so easy you can’t say no to it.

He recommends making it so easy it’s almost laughable. Maybe it’s exercising for one minute a day or doing one push-up a day or eating one healthy meal a week. Whatever it is, make it “stupid simple” to do. 

Stanford Professor BJ Fogg also suggests something similar. He says, “To create a new habit, you must first simplify the behavior. Make it tiny—even ridiculous. A good, tiny behavior is easy to do—and fast.” For his example, he uses flossing. He says if you want to be a better flosser, start by flossing just one tooth. He refers to this as the Minimum Viable Effort, where once you start doing something (even if it seems absurd) your brain decides to go ahead and finish what you started.

2. Understand exactly what is holding you back.

James explains the importance of breaking down your habits into smaller pieces and identifying the pain points that prevent you from becoming consistent. If you’re someone who repeatedly tells people you don’t like working out, what are your reasons for it? Is it because you’re unsure of what exercises to do? You don’t like the pressure of people watching you at the gym? Whatever it is, identify those pain points and resolve them one by one. (If you need help with that, our trainers are excellent at giving you the direction you need.)

3. Develop a plan for when you fail.

You can’t experience success without failure. When you do fall short, have a game plan for how you’re going to react. James encourages a “never miss twice” mindset. If you miss one workout, don’t beat yourself up. Just make sure you react in a positive way and don’t miss your next one!

iFit is here to help you meet your goals. Don’t ever give up! We have all of the tools to help you form those healthy habits. If you have any questions about an iFit membership, contact us at support@ifit.com or call (877) 236-1009.

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