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If/Then Linking Habits

From experience, we all know that forming a healthy habit is difficult, but breaking an unhealthy habit often feels impossible! What is it about habits that make them feel so arduous? Perhaps it is daunting to think about how many times we must repeat these behaviors, which take time and both mental and physical energy in order to make them stick.


Habits are ingrained behaviors that we repeat on autopilot without much thought. From infancy and toddlerhood, we practice behaviors over and over until we just don’t need to think about them anymore. Each time we practice a new behavior, we carve out and engrain a neural pathway that enables the brain to take a shortcut, reserving precious resources like focus and attention, for more demanding tasks…like calculus.


The fact of the matter is that it is really challenging to drop a bad habit since our brain is wired to default to this behavior when triggered. But the good news is, it’s not impossible! What can we do instead? Replace the bad habit with a healthier habit. For example, perhaps after work every day you are in the habit of heading straight to the fridge, frustrated and ravenous, and you automatically grab a beer and the chips and dip, plant yourself in front of your TV and settle in for a binge double whammy.


What are some alternatives you could opt to try first (bearing in mind that forming a habit involves a lot of stumbling, just as toddlers build their habit and skill with walking)?


This is where the “If/Then” Strategy comes to play. Ask yourself… “If I come into the house after work, frustrated and hungry, then I will ________.” Perhaps the behavior you choose is to grab a calorie and sugar-free seltzer and immediately B-line for the door where you take a quarter mile walk around your neighborhood. This gives you the opportunity to clear your mind and fill your belly a bit before jumping into a behavior you may regret when you’re more level-headed. The key is to continue to experiment with alternatives until you find one that suits you, and then to be consistent! Practice this behavior every day until it becomes as natural as brushing your teeth.


For assistance in developing and practicing your healthy habits, email Brandi Streeter at coach@hhhealth.com to discuss Health Coaching. A great resource to check out all about habits is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, available at online or at most major bookstores.



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