How to Build or Change a Habit

Make Your fitness Routine Stick!

Habits are defined as choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day. In The Power of Habit, business reporter Charles Duhigg shows how habits work and how they can transform our lives. “Keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate”, and they “start a process that, over time, transforms everything.” Keystone habits are a series of changes that ultimately radiates out to every part of our life. By focusing on one pattern, other areas of our life are reprogrammed.

Keystone habits are a series of changes that ultimately radiates out to every part of our life. Click To Tweet

There have been studies that habits, like  memory and reason, are at the root of how we behave. We might not remember the experiences that create our habits. But once they are registered deep within our brain, they influence how we act. We might  not even realize it. The habit loop, as explained by Duhigg consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. However, what powers the loop is a craving.


Make Fitness a Habit

Understanding how habits work is very important when trying to establish a new fitness routine. Or simply start working out more. By understanding the loop, we can incorporate fitness into our lives. Excitingly, the benefits will spill over to other areas.

In order to create a habit we need to find a simple and obvious cue. Then clearly define the reward. Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. We’re already anticipating the reward before doing our routine. As we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges from our brain. It starts spinning the habit loop. Habit emerges once we begin craving something associated with the cue.

For example, a simple cue can be our alarm going off in the morning. The routine would be exercising first thing in the morning. And the reward would be starting our day calm, collected, and centered. We need to allow ourselves to feel these benefits so that eventually the craving of them will make it easier to fit the 45 minute workout first thing in the morning. When our brain starts expecting the rewards we feel after exercising, which are a clearer, calmer mind and an energized body, we will begin to crave those feelings. It will become automatic to exercise every morning. Or at least five times a week. The cue must trigger the routine and the reward to come. When the temptation to sleep longer instead of waking up earlier to fit a workout in, we have to focus on craving the rewards that exercise brings because only the craving will drive the habit loop.


Photo © Michelle Fimbres

Beauty of Keystone Habits

When we start habitually inserting the new routine of a workout first thing in the morning, we will start changing other seemingly unrelated parts of our life, often unknowingly. Exercise is a keystone habit that will trigger widespread change. It makes other good habits easier. I believe that we will start breathing more efficiently throughout the day. We will be more productive. We will have more energy and patience. Maybe, situations will cause less stress and anxiety. Maybe the habit will spill over to our eating and drinking habits. It will even change how we treat other people.

All You Need Is Willpower

To make exercise a habit, all we need is willpower. I believe that willpower might be the most important habit for individual success. In a 2005 study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed 164 8th grade students. Those that exerted higher levels of willpower earned higher grades and got into better schools. Having willpower was seen as even more important to determine this, than having a high IQ. Cultivating self-disciple and turning willpower into a habit will ultimately spread to other areas of our life as well. We will have the power to refuse things we know are not good for us.

Studies show that willpower is a muscle. As we strengthen our willpower muscles, good habits spill over. “When you learn to force yourself to go to the gym or start your homework or eat a salad instead of a burger, part of what’s happening is that you’re changing how you think,” said Todd Heatherton, a researcher at Dartmouth. “People get better at regulating their impulses. They learn how to distract themselves from temptations. And once you’ve gotten into that willpower groove, your brain is practiced at helping you focus on a goal.”

What to Do When the Going Gets Rough

Duhigg points out that another important ingredient to the habit loop is how to design willpower habits to help us overcome painful inflection points. This translates to designing a plan when we don’t want to wake up earlier. Or when we feel unmotivated. We have to tell ourselves how we are going to make it over the hump. We can write out plans that anticipate how we will approach situations like these and practice the plan again and again until it becomes automatic. This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.

So if we want to make exercising daily a habit, we can start designing our habit loop that includes the cue (alarm waking us), the routine (a workout), and the reward (feeling good throughout the day). The craving and anticipation of all the benefits we will receive throughout our day from simply starting with an exercise of our choice will power the habit loop daily. We will exercise our willpower muscles on a daily basis and the benefits will spill over to other areas of our life! Let’s get started!

Yoga Pose

Photo © Michelle Fimbres

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