One of the topics I speak about for some organizations is how we will follow a habit until we make a decision to change it and fight to stick to the change. And with my gym No Excuses CrossFit starting their own health challenge this fall, I thought it could be a lot of fun to start a virtual challenge online.
The challenge is to change a major habit in 3 months. But before we discuss the details of the challenge itself, we should understand what a habit actually is.
Behavioral psychologists have recently discovered habits are triggered by a different, deeper part of our brain than what stimulates conscious decision making. Our brains developed habits in order to take a complicated set of behaviors and act on them subconsciously. And acting through our habits subconsciously helps keep our brains energy efficient.
What would happen if you had to make up a new behavior pattern every time you woke up in the morning? Most of us (myself included) have a hard enough time stumbling to the coffee pot, let alone going into deep thought about whether or not we shower before we brush our teeth. These decisions, however seemingly small, can add up over time and use a tremendous amount of mental energy.
Think about the number of steps it takes to perform a habit as simple as backing the car out of the driveway. We open the garage, unlock the door, put the key in the ignition, buckle the seat belt, turn the wheel, check the mirrors, check for obstacles, check for oncoming traffic, put our foot on the brake, shift into reverse, take our foot off the brake, judge space between the garage and the street, and finally apply slight pressure to the gas pedal and brake. Yet somehow we seemingly do it all without thinking.
In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg describes what has to happen in our brain in order to form a new habit, regardless of whether it’s a good or bad one. The process begins in our basal ganglia; a group of cells deep in our brain near our brain stem and spinal column.
The basal ganglia operates off of a three-step loop. First, there is a cue the brain recognizes as a trigger to go into auto-pilot and decide which habit to use. Second, there is the routine itself, which can be physical behavior or it can also be mental or emotional one too. And third, there must be a reward compelling enough for your brain to decide if this entire routine is worth repeating again in the future.
Think about what can make it so hard to quit smoking for instance. New research is showing us it’s not only a physical addiction to nicotine, but it’s the entire cue-routine-reward cycle. Maybe the cue is a particular time of day when you get in the car or have 15 minutes left before your lunch break ends.
Each time we go through the cue, routine, reward cycle, the behaviors becomes more and more automatic. Eventually the cue and reward become so connected to the routine that a new habit is born.
You have 3 months to replace a major habit with a new one that better serves you:
The New Habit must improve how you Look (i.e. clothes fit better, eyes look more rested from better sleep), Feel (more energy, less hungry, etc.) and/or Perform (performance could be on writing a book, increase in sales at work, personal records in the gym, etc.)
And it’s best to describe one or all of these objectives in even more detail– listing out how you will look, feel, and/or perform and what will be different than before.
I can’t tell you what habit to tackle, but I can encourage you to pick one and stick with it. The most important thing about this habit formation is the “sticking with it” part.
In Order to Participate: You must leave a comment answering Letters A – C in the comment section below.
(A) What is your new habit goal?
(B) What factors cause the old habit routine to begin? What are your cues?
(C) What is your reward? What will be different about how you look, feel and/or perform?
The challenge starts on Saturday September 8th and ends on Saturday December 8th.
I believe it helps to have a definitive date to get us started and a deadline to help us achieve what was once seemingly impossible. If we don’t set a date, then we don’t act.
If you’re a few days late to start in reading this, it’s ok, just jump on the train today!
MY NEW HABIT
(A) New Habit Goal: Improve my health and fitness while I’m traveling over the next 3 months.
I’ve been traveling quite a bit over the summer and I’ll be traveling a lot more (somewhere around 30 cities) between Sept. 8 and Dec. 8. I am already starting out in ‘less than stellar’ shape and in the past, it might have only continued to go downhill. This time it’s going to change.
I will also be blogging my progress under my new alter-ego…
THE TRAVELING CAVEMAN
(B) My old routine and cues: A lot of the time when I travel, I’m wiped by the time I make it back to my hotel room at the end of the night. When I get back into the hotel room, I’ll put off my workouts to the next day, and the next day after that.
Eventually I won’t have worked out for days or weeks in a row and my energy suffers even more. It goes without saying, but my diet suffers when I don’t keep myself accountable in my workouts.
My new habit will change this behavior routine while I’m on the road and give me more energy to take on the day.
(C) Goals in how I look, feel and/or perform: I plan to post a “before/after pic” on Dec. 8. I think setting the deadline to publish that pic on the website, facebook and twitter alone will help me get motivated to follow through. I will post the before pic and the after pic holding a newspaper with the headlines for Sept. 8 & Dec. 8 to show there was no foul play. Currently I weigh around 142 lbs and I will be around 10 lbs lighter by the end of the challenge.
And in addition to looking better, I hope to have more energy and be less reliant on midday espressos. I also think this energy will help me perform even more effectively while I’m on stage speaking.
There comes a time when we have to stop thinking about changing something and we set a date to do it. Without action nothing will ever improve. It is our actions combined with our desire that lead to real change in our lives.
I haven’t mentioned my thoughts on how to change specific habits (i.e. How to quit smoking), because I think deep down you already know a lot about how YOU need to change it. If not, I implore you to find the right resources (personal trainer, psychologist or life coach, etc.) to make it happen.
And the final thought: think about your deepest “why” for taking on this goal. Make a promise to someone who loves you and share this post with them to see your commitment. Or write your “why” down and keep it somewhere you’ll see in that moment when times are tough and you need the encouragement.
Remember– even when we temporarily fall off the wagon– we are not beat until we choose to stay down. Regardless how many times it takes to stand up, dust the dirt off and keep moving forward.
Alright– enough talk, let’s get to work!