Creating Your Own Habit Loop | February 6, 2014

I have been helping people change their exercise and diet habits for years.  Some are successful and some are not.

What makes some so successful?  Certainly commitment is involved here, but also something we call “Habit Loops.”  Here is an example of what I mean:

John Smith – Diagnosis:  Type II Diabetes.  John’s physician recommended a goal weight loss of 45 pounds, changing his diet to cut out carbohydrates, especially simple sugars and fats, and exercise at least 30 minutes per day.  When we saw John a month later, he had actually gained an additional five pounds and miserably failed the diet plan his physician had prescribed.  Why?  John could not commit to that much of a change in his lifestyle and reverted back to his old habits.

I cannot stress this enough.  Cultivating and ingraining a new behavior takes time.  When you place too much pressure on your brain and body and don’t allow enough time to make small behavior changes, you will revert back to your old habits.

In order to establish a new behavior pattern, John needed to start small.  Starting small meant making one small change in his diet and exercise habits.  For example, we started by having him park his car at the far end of the parking lot.  After weeks of doing this, it was now a habit for John.  He changed his habit loop.

To this, we added on by having him take a five-minute walking break at 10 a.m. every day.  After a few weeks, the new habit loop was parking far away and walking for five minutes every day.

At the same time, we changed his diet by having him add one vegetable to his noon meal every day.  After several weeks, John suggested he add a vegetable to each of his dinner meals as well.  You see where this is going.  John began adding to his habit loop, something we call the “ripple effect.”

The brain is a funny thing.  Once we create habits, the brain actually starts craving the rewards that habits provide.  It makes us feel better and think clearer.

Now that the New Year is upon us, I challenge you to take a deeper look at your own habit loop.  Are there places where it might need a little tweaking or more of an overhaul?  If an overhaul is in the works, please start out small and go slow.  Making small and gradual changes in habits eventually yield big results.  Another way to think about this is to focus on the journey, not the destination.