We are creatures of habit. We happily eat the same foods and generally do the same things every day. Without these habits and routines our lives would have little structure and too much uncertainty.

When you’re trying to break a bad lifestyle habit, routine can be your friend and your enemy. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly is challenging in the beginning but if you stick with it long enough it becomes a habit and you go into autopilot mode.

The Challenge

Having big health and fitness goals is great but can be overwhelming. Think about it, a goal to “give up sugar for 30 days” sounds more achievable than a goal to “be healthier.”

The easiest way to break bad lifestyle habits is through small incremental changes. When you make a small change every day you hardly notice that something is different.

The Science

Science says that it takes a little over two weeks to break a habit, so if you want to unlearn the old habit and learn a new one you must be willing to commit for at least 30 days. This is not to say that 30 days is some sort of magic line that makes you immune to your old ways but it’s a good place to start.

There are three distinct stages that make up a habit: cue, routine and reward. The cue triggers the routine. For instance, stress can be a cue for cravings. When triggered, you automatically go into routine mode and start doing things to satisfy the craving. The satisfaction you get from doing this is the reward.

The first step to breaking bad habits is identifying the cues, routines and rewards associated with them.

New Routine

While it’s possible to avoid the things that trigger bad habits it’s much easier to replace the current routine with a new one. This way it’s a lot harder to go back to your old ways when you inevitably hit a rough patch.

The first step to changing a routine is to come up with a specific plan. For instance, if your goal is to go to the gym more often, sign up for a class.

Secondly, plan to tackle one small goal every week. Science shows that it is impossible to change multiple habits at once. So don’t try to give up sugar and bread and eat more fruit and vegetables all in one week. Do one thing at a time.

The changes should also be incremental. If you give up sugar one week, don’t reintroduce it during “fruit and vegetable” week. You would continue limiting your sugar intake while adding fruit and vegetables because this way you don’t lose any ground.

You can have the health you desire by using incremental micro changes to break bad habits and transform your life one day (or one hour) at a time.

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