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Back in the Habit Loop

Habit-based interventions are popping up more and more in the latest research. But what do we actually know about habits and how do we ditch the bad ones?

Does your list of resolutions roll on from year to year with nothing ever being crossed off? Good news, you are not alone! Even better news, it's not you, it's the system you're using.

Research has shown, setting broad health goals like "lose weight" or "get fit" are not effective at promoting change, let alone long term change. These types of goals are focused on outcomes and not the processes required to achieve those goals. Latest research has shown, our daily habits play a key role in either our success or failure and must be addressed if we are to achieve long lasting change.

“Scientific research tells us long-term changes in your body come from habit-based interventions." - Dr. Gina Cleo

What are habits?

Habits are the behaviours we do automatically without thinking. Examples of common habits could be brushing our teeth, putting on our seat belts, biting our nails or snacking after dinner. Habits can be good, bad or indifferent and although they happen automatically, they are often triggered by a cue or context e.g. a time, a place, an emotion or an activity. The cue is the first step in what is known as the habit loop.

The Habit Loop

1. Cue: this is the trigger that sets off the habit

2. Routine: the automatic reaction to the cue

3. Reward: the benefit we receive from engaging in the habit

Here is an example of a habit loop that many of my clients have spoken about:

1. Cue: see the chocolate bars at the counter when paying for petrol

2. Routine: buy a chocolate bar and eat it

3. Reward: feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment of the sweetness, texture etc

How do we change our habits?

There are many methods to habit change. One option is to interrupt the habit loop. For example, look at how the cycle is changed when instead of paying for petrol in the store, we pay at the pump:

1. Cue: petrol is paid for at the pump

2. Routine: get back in the car and keep driving

3. Reward: saving money, satisfaction of making a healthier choice

In this example, by changing the cue, the outcome of the cycle is completely different.

Tips for habit change using the habit loop:

1. Identify your habits:

One way to do this is write down everything you do in a day. Identify which habits are positive, which are negative and which are indifferent.

2. Pick some key habits you would like to change:

Start small. Pick three tiny changes you would like to make. This is much more achievable than aiming for a full lifestyle overhaul. You will be amazed at the cumulative effect of making tiny changes.

3. Figure out your habit loop:

What is the cue, routine and reward for the habit you would like to change?

4. Come up with some ideas to shake up the old habit loop:

Can you change your cue? e.g. drive a different way home from work so you don't go past the Drive Thru.

Can you change your routine? e.g. don't stop when driving past the Drive Thru, instead grab a healthy snack out of your bag or glove box.

5. Put your plan into action!

Practise. If the change is coming easily, keep going! If the change is proving very difficult, consider either changing your goal to something more achievable or review your plan and try a different solution.

**If you feel you could benefit from having extra support to make change, sign up for a free 30 minute session. We can discuss your needs and see if we're a good fit!**



The information provided in this blog is for your personal or other non-commercial, educational purposes. It should not be considered as medical or professional advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking or omitting to take any action based on this blog. While the author uses best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises and assumes no liability regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information presented. The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this blog are for general information only and any reliance on the information provided in this blog/article/handout is done at your own risk. Any third-party materials or content of any third-party site referenced in this blog do not necessarily reflect the author’s opinion, standards or policies and the author does not assume any liability for them whatsoever.


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