Science Behind Breaking Habits

Have I ever shared where I began my fitness journey? ... at the bottom of a McDonald's bag. 

No really, I used to eat AT LEAST two meals per day fast food, and a large coke with every meal. I played tons of sports, and didn't think at all about food so I stayed thin but nevertheless, I was extremely unhealthy. I always had visions of being healthy, but would always joke that I hated anything green. I liked all my foods white. My road to health was not your typical huge weight loss story, but that doesn't mean that changing my habits wasn't just as difficult. 

My taste buds were, and still are, made for a crinkle fry and pizza. 

So, what's the science behind changing habits? I think that we have all heard that it takes 21 days to break one. It takes a lot shorter time to form one. I can form a habit so quickly such as eating peanut butter immediately when I wake up now. It's weird, I kinda wish I would stop, but it's what I do. This is like before coffee. HA! I'm a creature of habit (as I think we all are), and I have an addictive personality (shocking I know?). I drink too much diet coke, and too much coffee ( jk there is never too much ;) ), and I could probably stand to read my Bible more. 

Your habits are formed in your basal ganglia. Your decisions to do those habits are made in the prefrontal cortex. Your brain is so complex, but after repetition, your brain turns those decisions into something that takes no conscious thought moving from the prefrontal cortex into the basal ganglia. This forms the "habit loop". You have a general routine that creates a trigger (step 1), you do the habit (step 2), and you experience the reward from this habit (step 3). The cycle continues. ( http://www.npr.org/2012/03/05/147192599/habits-how-they-form-and-how-to-break-them ) 

How do we change these things? 

I think that this time of year always has us thinking about what we can do better in the coming year. We all have this innate part of us that wants to be better, to do better. I looked up the science behind this, and there's not much data. The idea that a habit can be broken in 21 days is not based on scientific research but merely a book that was written during the 1970's that became popular from a man with an idea. Some of us may takes much more time (sometimes many months) to break ours. Some may truly be addictions, and then those are even harder. 

My grandmother found she was able to get over smoking and kick her addiction almost before she was able to quit her habits. She always drank coffee with her cigarettes, so she realized that she also had to quit drinking coffee to get over the habit. She had to get over the HABIT of having something in her mouth. Habits are much more ingrained in us than we believe, therefore we also shouldn't give ourselves such a hard time if we goof up.  

I just wanted to share a few things that I believe can help us break those nasty habits whether those be about health and fitness, or just other things in general: 

1. Become aware. 

You are never going to be able to get over something until you consciously are aware that you are doing something that you want to change although I think that's a gimme. I do think that sometimes we know and chose to ignore though so it has to be something that you make an effort to change. 

2. Have an action plan.

These sound so easy, but REALLY. If you are binge eating, then you can't just tell yourself that you are going to stop. It doesn't worth that way and we all know that things in health are much more mental. You must have a plan that you do when you are going for that extra cookie past your macros. I used to take walks when I was trying to break habits and about to give in (I've had some nasty ones to kick). 

3. Know the reason why 

If you don't have a valid reason that you want to break these habits, you aren't going to be able to convince yourself in the hard moments of why you want to stop. Write it down somewhere when you start, and read this in the moments of weakness. 

4. Baby steps 

This can go for anything. If you are trying to run a marathon and you just stepped off the couch, then don't expect to be able to run even 5 miles. Praise yourself for the steps along the way. We ALL are at different points in our journey. If you are trying to break a diet coke habit, then praise yourself for making a day without it. 

5. Stop thinking about it 

Oh my goodness, I feel this one is huge. The more you think about something, the more that you are going to want it. I know when I first tried to give up my gum addiction last year, it was impossible. The more that I tried to quit, the more that I wanted the gum and I just thought about gum all the time ( weird, I know ). It took me just NOT focusing on it to be able to only have a piece here and there and not an entire pack everyday. If you are trying to lose weight, stop thinking about it so much as hard as that is. Just have a game plan, follow that game plan and try to not think about it. It'll make the process so much easier and time will pass quicker. 

6. ONE AT A TIME! 

I can't stress this enough. If you are wanting to change your life for a healthier version then stop writing yourself a to do list of all the nasty habits that you are going to kick. The reality of it is that this is not going to last. You will get fed up much quicker than if you just take one habit at a time, slowly make changes and then when you have that one kicked, try the next. Don't quit smoking and soda at the same time. Like, no. You most likely won't be successful. 

7. Change your settings

This one is big also. Habits are shown to occur in your natural settings, like while you are at home in your normal routine. Quitting smoking or changing your health routine is actually best when done when you are away from home, because then your surrounding change and it becomes easier without those triggers to cue the habit loop. So, if you are trying to break a habit at home, then change up the way things look at home, change up the way that you do other things (that aren't already habits but maybe just your daily routine) so that you don't have those cues triggering the habit. 

Habits are hard to break, and will always be hard, but there are ways that you can fight it and it's also shown in clinical trial that no matter your age, no matter your stage in life, no matter how long you've had the habit, habits CAN be broken and I think there's hope and encouragement in that fact! 

So, what are your habits? Mine are really weird sometimes, and I tend to form a new one everyday. Do you wanna change some habits?

With love and breaking bad habits,

Katie



We don't believe in spam but only in infrequent emails we think will help you!

* indicates required