The Power of Habit for a Healthy Lifestyle

Is it possible for someone to be void of bad health habits?  Only good ones exist, where you’re automated to do everything in your life that is best for your health.  No more guilt-ridden mind games when you tell yourself, just one more bite and you’re done. Then, minutes later you find yourself finishing a plate of (insert your kryptonite food).  Or instead of hitting snooze several times to delay your intention to exercise before work, you immediately get up, put on the gear you laid out on the floor and out the door for an early morning run.  After reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, it might just be possible.

“We are what we repeatedly do” –  as stated 2000 years ago by the great Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle.  It’s as true now as it was back then.  Researchers at Duke University revealed in a 2006 study on habits that 45% of people’s everyday behavior are repetitive action.  Habit formation and change is the subject deeply explored in the The Power of Habit.  Our habits play a significant factor in the way we eat, move and sleep. Once we understand how habits work, we can determine which ones we want to implement in our lives and take action.


I want to eat more vegetables.  What can I do to develop the habit of more vegetables in my diet?

farmer's market vegetables

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The first step is to understand Habit Formation.  Charles Duhigg described habit as a ‘three-step loop process’ that occur in our brains.  Starting with the CUE, basically a trigger that signals the brain to act on a specific behavior automatically.  This is then followed by the ROUTINE, the behavior itself which could either be “physical, mental or emotional”.  Last the REWARDthe payoff for the behavior.  This is how the brain remembers the pattern and make it automatic.  An example of a habit is washing your hands before you eat.  A cue could be after you order at a restaurant or after you unpack your lunch.  Washing your hands is the routine. And the reward is less germs on your hands means less risk for sickness.

Back to my question of what can I do to make a habit of eating more vegetables?  The process will be an experimentation of identifying the right cues and rewards.  A reward has to be significantly valuable for the brain to remember the pattern.  If the reward evokes a feeling or emotion, it tends to be more powerful than a physical reward.

A visual cue works best for me.  A package of pre-washed, ready to eat mixed greens placed in the fridge where it’s easy to see. (Convenience and ease plays a factor).
The cue results to this action.  Throw it in a bowl to eat as a side for lunch or dinner.
Emotional reward. Giving my body the nutrients it needs to function properly.


If you want to get rid of a bad habit, raise your hand!  The trouble is we can’t really make bad habits disappear.  By using The Golden Rule of Habit Change, we can work towards replacing a bad habit with a better habit.

Photo credit: AZ quotes

Photo credit: AZ quotes

Habits, good or bad, are ingrained in the brain. They are difficult to change unless ‘new neurological routines’ overtakes the old behavior.  Once we understand the loop, we can find a way to take control and create a new pattern.  With habit change, The Golden Rule is Use the Same Cues and Same Rewards, but Change the Routine.

Here’s a habit I want to change:  I developed a snacking habit when I write.  As I write this post, I’ve been snacking on cashews.  Remember my nut addiction?  It happens in the morning, when I’m on the laptop typing away.  I start to crave nuts and I can’t stop at only one serving.

What I plan to do to forge a new pattern.  Old Cue – Typing a post on my laptop. Old Reward – I feel that chewing stimulates my brain activity and helps me write more effectively.  Old Routine – consume nuts without limitations as I mindlessly eat while I’m writing.  Alternative Routine – measure a serving of nuts, then chew it slowly so it will last for a longer period of time.  Experiment for several days to see if it’s effective.  If not, find another alternative behavior.


Can you pinpoint one powerful habit in your life that tends to set a domino effect towards better habits?  This powerful habit is called a Keystone Habit.  Once developed, it has a strong influence on other habits you have in your life. Exercise is considered a keystone habit as studies have proven its impact on daily routines.  People who are habitual exercisers (even if it’s only 1x/week) tend to eat better and get enough sleep, making them more productive at work. They also show signs of less stress.

Another example is a food log to lose weight.  A study in 2009 directed a group of obese people to keep a journal.  After six months, those who kept a daily food log lost twice as much weight.  The single habitual act of logging food in a journal caused the participants to recognize patterns in their behavior that lead to habits of healthy eating.  Journal writing was their keystone habit.

What fuels the cascade of changes from a keystone habit?  SMALL WINS. 

Small Wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns convince people that bigger achievements are within reach

Bob Bowman, coach of Michael Phelps used the keystone habits of visualization and relaxation, forming the right mind-set for Phelps to remain calm and focused prior to each race.  Bowman honed in on the small wins and as he mentioned to the author, Duhigg “…it was best to concentrate on these tiny moments of success and build them into mental triggers.  We worked them into a routine.  There’s a series of things we do before every race that are designed to give Michael a sense of building victory.” The mental habits Phelps’ coach instilled in him contributed to his success as an Olympic champion.

I agree, SMALL changes can truly create a BIG impact.  Instead of tackling a major lifestyle change all at once, focus on the small victories.  Have patience in the process.


For some habits, however, there’s one other ingredient that’s necessary: belief.

Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior.

Believing in yourself and the process to change for the better.  However, is it easier to believe when you tackle a challenge on your own or with the support of a community?  I think it depends on the type of person you are. Some people are wired with the utmost determination.  Any change, simple or difficult, they can handle on their own.  For most, me included, I agree when the author stated in the book that “Belief is easier when it occurs within a community.”

There’s an endless number of health and fitness communities whether it’s for weight loss, dietary changes, or just staying active, online and offline.  When you start to feel discouraged, you can get support from members of the community you’re in.  Also, observing someone else’s success could cause you to believe that you can also achieve the same success.  I love being part of the San Diego Track Club.  I feel energized and motivated every time I run with the group.  Whenever I go through a slump with running, I know if I just make it to one track club workout, I eventually bounce back.


Change is hard.  To form new habits through experimentation of cues and rewards as well as to find alternative ways of behavior to satisfy the same cues and rewards in place of a bad habit requires work and determination.  The process could get difficult and take time.  You are the only one who has control over the decisions you make in life.  Numerous resources are available, but first it’s up to YOU to DECIDE to accept the challenge.


Have you read The Power of Habit?  Do you think a habit is easy or hard to form/change?

I am linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Mar at Mar on the Run and Cynthia at You Signed up for What for their Friday Five.DC-Trifecta-Friday-Five-linkup

Also joining Jill‘s Living a Life of Fitness, Health and Happiness friday link-up.

Disclosure: The links provided are affiliate links through the Amazon associates program. It simply means if you click on it to purchase the book, I will earn a small credit for the referral.  Thanks for the support.

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