In my last post I talked about the pathways in our brain that are created when we think or do something over and over again. The process becomes automatic and easy. Remember learning to ride a bicycle? You had to put a lot of thought into it at first, but then over time it became easy and automatic. I used the example of negative thinking. If you think lots of negative thoughts about yourself, you find those thoughts are easy to come by but the positive ones take work because it is much easier for us to go down the pathway that was already created and easily attainable. To create new habits, like thinking positive thoughts, we need to do some work and retrain our brains to create a new path in our brain.
What is a habit and why is it important in your health & fitness goals? According to Merriam-Webster dictionary a habit is, “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance,” or “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary,” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habit). Habits are automatic behaviors that are part of that easy neurological pathway in our brain. We don’t think about every move we make when we drive, ride a bike or brush our teeth. Wouldn’t it be nice if eating right and fitness became a habit and was automatic like those things I mentioned? It would be great if it was a no brainer!
I believe we can get there. I have a background in psychology and I have a son with autism. If there is anything I know about, it’s about what reinforces behavior and how to create new behaviors. Sometimes, with my son we even inadvertently reinforced behavior we didn’t want! You really have to be very careful when you are using the principles of reinforcement. Don’t worry I won’t go into a psychology lesson.
But before you can change or create a habit you have to take a close look at all the other behaviors involved with it. For instance, I was determined last year to drink more water. I hated drinking water and always complained the water was either too cold or not cold enough. I just made excuses. This was not an easy habit for me to form, but I knew drinking water was going to be a key habit to help me on my path to better health. So I was determined to make this change. I tried everything. I bought new colorful bottles. I bought cases of water and left them in my office so they were accessible. I carried water bottles around with me all the time. Nothing seemed to help. I would never reach my goal at the end of the day. My proverbial glass was half empty, but my REAL glass was always completely full. Ugh!
One morning I was waking up and realized just how much I could not wait for that first cup of coffee. Here is where mindfulness became important on my journey. I was able to be in that moment of wanting something and not gratifying right away. Just observing and studying it. As I did this it suddenly dawned on me that my coffee habit could be harnessed here! I decided before I could have my cup of coffee I had to drink a glass of water. That first glass of water took me a very long time to drink, but because I wanted my coffee and set that goal I felt there was no turning back. Over the next few weeks I upped the ante. I added hot water and lemon, which has multiple benefits, read about them here, and a glass of water before my first cup of coffee. Eventually I worked up to the routine I have today which is to drink my hot water with lemon and then 32 oz of water before my first cup of coffee. This has become my morning habit now and I am able to reach more than 1/2 of my goal for water before my first cup of coffee. Don’t get me wrong. This didn’t happen overnight. I practiced doing it over and over so many times it became easy. Now I find myself waking up and thinking about that first sip of water, instead of that first cup of coffee.
What are some habits you could add into your life by hooking them up to already existing habits or patterns?