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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Smith

How to Build Habits and Make Long-Term Behavior Change

Updated: May 15

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

Physiotherapist helping Patients complete clinical pilates building good habits

This quote has been attributed to American writer and philosopher Will Durant and speaks to the importance of habit formation into achieving our long-term goals.

Our long-term goals such as weight loss, exercising more regularly, or saving money often conflict with our short-term desires such as eating our favorite snacks, watching the latest show on Netflix, our treating ourselves to some retail therapy. Previous research has suggested that people who achieve these goals do not have more motivation or willpower than those who find achieving their long-term goals more difficult, but instead rely on strategies that they find effortless due to the formation of good habits.

Habits & Health:

We know good habits become the building blocks for a healthy lifestyle, but how do they actually integrate with your overall health?

  • Preventative Measures: Well we all know regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep are all good for you, but did you know doing these things consistently reduce your risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity?

  • Improved Physical Functioning: Healthy habits enhance your physical capabilities. Exercise strengthens your muscles and bones, increases stamina, and improves balance. Good habits beget good habits, the more you do , the more you will want to do. (remember the key here is to start small and achievable, we don't want to encourage Education provided about boom, bust behavior// pt. demonstrated insight and understanding/bust behavior or an all or nothing mindset.

  • Enhanced Mental Well-being: Good habits can positively impact your mental health. Physical activity releases endorphins, which elevate mood and reduce stress. Getting enough sleep improves focus and concentration. Additionally, habits like meditation can promote relaxation and mindfulness. Who knew ? !

  • Creates a Ripple Effect: Healthy habits often influence other areas of life. Eating nutritious foods fuels your body for work and exercise. Getting enough sleep allows you to make better choices throughout the day. This creates a positive cycle that supports overall well-being.

  • Sustainable Lifestyle: Good habits become ingrained in your routine, making healthy choices automatically. This consistency is essential for long-term health and reduces the risk of falling back into unhealthy patterns.

So How do I Hack a Habit?

Atomic Habits Book James Clear

In his book Atomic Habits Author James Clear breaks down how to build good habits into 4 simple rules , that utilize the habit loop of;

  1. Cue (1)

  2. Craving (2)

  3. Response (3)

  4. Reward (4)

The image you sent depicts the Habit Loop, a concept introduced by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. The Habit Loop consists of four parts: cue, craving, response, and reward. The cue is a trigger that initiates the habit, the craving is the brain's desire for the reward associated with the habit, the response is the action of performing the habit, and the reward is the positive reinforcement that strengthens the habit loop.  Physiotherapy Move Sports Physio in Geelong can leverage the Habit Loop

These triggers form the basis of habit formation in our brains. So what does this mean for you? Just because we know habits have this pattern, it doesn't mean that the habits we have will automatically be good for us. For example, you may have a habit, a long day at work, (cue) , and you want to relax (craving) , so you reach for the TV remote and a delicious glass of rose' (easy, and satisfying). This habit won't help you get fit and healthy, but it will satisfy your need to wind down at the end of the day.

So how do we HACK a habit and create meaningful positive change that sticks?

How to Hack a Habit?

Rule 1- Make it obvious.

Our first step is to create a cue, this triggers our brain to initiate our behavior that we need to do to receive a reward. So what can we do to create a cue ?

Examples include

Using visual clues for example if you want to exercise in the morning leave out your exercise gear the night before

Creating an implementation intention: e.g. After I [current habit], I will [new habit] or I Will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]. Using exercise as an example this would be I will exercise for 45 minutes at 5pm at my local F45.

Rule 2 – Make it attractive.

The second step is to make to habit attractive. Your brain likes doing things that are easy and fun. Focus on the positive outcomes of the habit. Visualize the benefits of your post-walk energy boost or the accomplishment of completing a workout.

Ways we can make the habit more attractive:

Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior, for example a running or walking group.

Rule 3 – Make it easy.

The easier it is to respond to the cue the more likely we are to act and complete our desired task. Therefore we need to make this task as easy to do as we can to do this we need to remove as many sticking points as we can. Start small and gradually increase the difficulty. Begin with a 5-minute walk instead of aiming for 20 minutes right away. This makes the response less daunting and increases the chances of sticking with it.

To do this we need to prime or environment for future use examples of how to do this are meal prepping when you have time to cook to make it easier to eat healthy when you don’t have the time. Our brains love the path of least resistance.

Rule 4 – Make it satisfying.

We all need rewards, so does our brain when it comes to forming a habit that sticks. Immediately after completing your habit, reward yourself with something you enjoy. This could be listening to your favorite music during your walk or taking a relaxing bath after a workout.

Other strategies to help boost our ability to form good habits;

  • Habit Stacking: Pair your new habit with an existing one. For example, do some push-ups after brushing your teeth. We still don't know anyone who has actually done this , but you get the idea.

  • Habit Tracking: Use a habit tracker to monitor your progress and stay motivated. We have added one on the bottom of the article for you to download. Sometimes simply the art of crossing something off is enough to keep you on track.

  • Focus on Improvement, Not Perfection: Don't get discouraged by missed sessions. The key is to get back on track as soon as possible. At Move we aim for progress, not perfection.

Moving the needle. Text below in quotes: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” by Aristotle.

Download this form to help track your own habits. At MOVE Sports Physio in Geelong, we are passionate about empowering you to make real meaningful changes in your health and fitness. Sometimes we do this by providing structure and assessment to your strength and fitness, at other times it is by reducing your pain so you can find the freedom and joy of movement again.

Whatever it is we know with consistent effort and regular movement your body and mind will thank you in the long run. This is especially true for those who live with persistent pain and chronic conditions. Know you are not alone and we are here to help you set up healthy habits that help you and your body MOVE. If you need someone to help keep you accountable to your new habits - reach out to the MOVE team today.

Interested in learning more about the psychology of pain or what happens to your brain when you are in pain -> click here.


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