“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” - John Dryden
We all know the power of habit. The good, the bad and the ugly. Habits are defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up” and I think it would be safe to say that often times our circumstances are defined, or caused, by our habits.
Clearly bad habits result in unfavorable circumstances, whereas good habits can do the opposite. Sadly, many of our current habits and lifestyle behaviors are leading so many of us down the rabbit hole of chronic medical conditions and disease. Heart disease (coronary artery disease), type II diabetes (non-insulin dependent) and hypertension (high blood pressure) are reported as approximately 95% preventable and even reversible in some cases through increased physical activity and modified diet. Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada behind cancer – and yet it is almost 100% preventable. To me it just seems like something you would want to try and prevent - right? After more than 20 years in the health and fitness industry I think its time for us all to rethink our behavior and reevaluate why we exercise in the first place. From a weight loss mentality to a health first mindset.
In today’s world of technology and social media you don’t have to look far to find some kind of diet or exercise product / program that claims to quickly augment the current trends of today’s lifestyle. But something isn’t adding up, is it? Statistically the health and fitness industry boasts some staggering profit numbers and all the while obesity rates increase and preventable disease numbers climb. Even just a couple of years ago (with respect to products and services that make up the “Total Available Market” in North America) these numbers totaled; $8 billion for Personal Training Services, $27 billion for the health club industry and a whopping $60 billion for anything that was associated with dieting (diet books, products, food and beverages, programs etc). And these profits are on the rise today. Ironically so are the rates of obesity and type II diabetes. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2050 one third of the world’s population will have type II diabetes...that is >2 billion people. Health care programs and benefits won’t be able to keep up and the costs, both personal and financial will be profound. Ummm Health Care? Good luck! Time to care for YOUR health!
Some more interesting statistics based on a 14 year study that examined the association between 4 healthy lifestyle habits and death of approximately 12,000 adult men and women, ranging from normal to obese. Those 4 healthy habits were; eating more fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise, being a non-smoker and avoiding excessive alcohol.
The graph represents the number of healthy habits practiced along the bottom axis with lighter shaded bars representing normal weight and darker bars representing obese. The vertical axis being eminent death. What do ya know, the more healthy habits practiced the lower the mortality rate. Yes, you knew that already. But what you probably didn’t realize is in 14 years the obese population who followed the healthy habit lifestyle benefited just as much as the “normal BMI” population. I guess my point is health matters and in that, creating healthy habits truly is a matter of life and death.
So leading back to the opening statement about making habits, so our habits make us, this essentially takes the “thinking” out of the process...but you have to create the right habits! How are habits created? Well, habit formation itself is one the most evolutionary processes using positive and negative reinforcement reward based learning. Our behaviors are reinforced based on a cue or a trigger, followed by an action or behavior, which if repeated becomes a learned behavior or a habit which ends with a reward. It is called the Habit Loop and it is reinforced by many different emotional triggers. With today’s lifestyle it is easy to see how negative habits are formed. Convenience (easy makes me happy), Coping (I can’t deal with the stress) and some forms of addiction (be it digital or substance) can all contribute to negative patterns of behavior.
Ideally you want to break the bad and build the better using the Habit Loop. In order to break the bad habit one technique is deconstruct the behavior by being more mindful of it, or simply using curiosity. Understandably we all know what our bad habits are. By using the curiosity strategy, when the cue/trigger occurs and the behavior ensues your mind will become more “visceral” about the behavior. What does that particular behavior feel like deep down inside? Go beyond the “know” and go for the “feel”. Especially if it is a behavior that is cognitively unhealthy you will begin to have a deeper wisdom of the negative impact and soon the rewards become less pleasant or intriguing. Not an overnight fix but piquing the curiosity typically fortifies “good feelings”. When was the last time you didn’t want to pursue something you were curious about?
When building better habits the Habit Loop still applies but instead of deconstructing, you have to mindfully construct it. You must do so in small but frequent doses. Triggering or cueing a healthy behavior will require compounding choices that will occur routinely throughout the day. Anything from what time you go to bed, to what time you set your alarm, to what groceries you have on hand, how you navigate the grocery store or if you have comprehended the opportunity. There are so many small actions that can spark a cue that should lead to a behavior and most definitely reap the rewards. One thing is for certain there is an undeniable positive psychology spin on building healthy habits...you never regret it. The only regret is perhaps not starting them sooner!
Health Canada recommends adults achieve at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. We couldn’t agree more which is why we are encouraging everyone in our community to get moving , create new healthy habits and become a part of the #the150movement. A simple start – just pledge (to yourself from yourself) that you will achieve 150 minutes of activity per week in 2017. Keep connected for tips and resources and stay tuned for some upcoming events hosted by The Movement. What better opportunity to start paving your way to healthy habit formation than #the150movement!