Change your Mindset – Change your Habits

I wonder how many of us feel certain aspects of our day to day behaviour are a limitation or a hindrance when it comes to the acquisition of mind and body wellness?

If there’s ever a time to feel frustrated or demotivated, it’s when we try to set ourselves personal goals but struggle to achieve them.Eating fresh fruit and vegetables, drinking more water, meditating at least once or twice per week…

Most people want to live healthier, happier and well; but navigating the journey towards physical and mental wellbeing can be a complicated task – especially if we’re trapped by set patterns in our behavior.

When we talk about behavioural patterns quite often we are talking about habits, specifically unwanted habits. In everyday language we describe habits as ‘behaviours that are repeated over time’; but a more academic definition might be that habits reflect learned actions, reinforced by previous rewarding experiences and are triggered in the moment to cause the behaviour.

Once you understand your habit cycle it can be useful to think about alternative, healthier rewards you could turn to in times of need.

It’s thought that approximately 45% of behaviours are repeated in the same location nearly every day; which means that our environment is pretty important when it comes to better understanding the formation (and persistence) of habits.

Much of the psychological research in this area tells us that habits have three key features, which if understood could provide a potential window for change:

1. Cues/Triggers in the environment
2. Routine
3. Reward

For example: you’re at work and it’s 4pm. It’s been a tough day and you feel tired (CUE). You head to the vending machine and purchase some chocolate (ROUTINE). Fast forward and it’s 5pm, you’ve eaten your snack, feel more energetic and it’s time to go home- yes! (REWARD)

Over time this cycle of cue-routine-reward becomes deeply embedded in the unconscious, to the point where we don’t actively notice it anymore. It’s most powerful when we perceive the reward as something positive because this means we are much more likely to repeat it again. When it comes to eating, some foods particularly those rich in sugars and fat, are considered to be very potent rewards that in the long run promote eating by most likely stimulating the release of dopamine in the brain, a chemical that is crucial in the development of reward and learned responses.

So, given what we know about daily habits how do we go about breaking or improving them?

Step 1: Identify the issue:
As simple as it sounds, unless we actively identify the negative patterns in our behaviour we’re not going to make any positive changes! This means trying to figure out the cue, routine and reward associated with your habit. Some-times simply thinking about it and writing it down or talking it through with a friend can be a good starting point.

Step 2: Consider the options:
Once you’ve nailed your understanding of your habit cycle it can be useful to think about alternative, healthier rewards you could turn to in times of need. Create a list, jot it down on your phone or tablet and have it readily available so you know your options the next time you need it.

As simple as it sounds, unless we actively identify the negative patterns in our behavior we’re not going to make any positive changes!

Step 3: Practice makes perfect:
Changing longstanding habits and behaviours is always going to be difficult, but with the right mindset and a little inner determination, change is possible. You may not find the right alternative option straight away, but with a little trial and error you will get there. Once you figure out what might work, keep going! It’s only a matter of time before your brain starts to learn new associations between routine-reward cycles that have persisted for so long.

Step 4: Be kind to yourself:
There’s nothing worse than working really hard to make a positive change, only to be sabotaged by your own self-critical mind. Focusing your thoughts on positive cognition is really important, as is accepting that sometimes your mind will wander and question the point of it all.

At this moment, it’s useful to try and re-frame your original negative thought into something that’s positive and more affirming as opposed to demoralizing.

Finally, know that you have already made a significant advancement if you are simply thinking about breaking a bad habit or instilling a healthier, happier, positive one. You’ve already started your journey, and the next step is that much closer.

Thanks to Dr Priya Rajyaguru for this feature article that appeared inside our Spring Issue of Thrive Magazine.

You can find more from Dr Priya over at: www.honeyandmind.com