Updated: Oct 19
Have you ever been stunned when running into an old friend by how much they changed? Maybe they excelled in a career or earned a PhD. Perhaps they lost a bunch of weight or had a slew of babies.
Somewhere life changed and they grew into a different person. It leaves one to wonder when did they change, why did they change, and how did they change?
Over the years I've both pondered and studied human behavior to improve my own life, as well as help those I coach.
I have genuine admiration for people who make something out of nothing. Or, take tough situations and turn them into their stepping stones.
I love to hear their story and learn from them. I've found that personal experiences are what usually inspires or pushes people to change.
How they change, however, is intentional.
Habits are recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that dictate everything we become.
This is true for just about everything from winning an Olympic Gold Medal to receiving a diagnosis of emphysema after smoking for 20 years.
Statistically, both of these staggering and different events are predicated on the person's lifestyle and habits, more than genetics.
For many, this can be an uncomfortable reality. It's easier to credit genetics or circumstance to successes and failures, rather than go through the sometimes messy work of changing lifestyle habits.
But the truth is, regardless of our genetics and / or circumstances, studies show we are capable of rewiring our daily thoughts and habits with a little bit of effort.
People make positive changes in their lives every single day and by one choice at a time.
If one small choice can change the trajectory of your day, imagine what can happen over a lifetime.
With the help of a couple recent studies, I have compiled a short list of techniques you can start today.
1. Determine What is Important to You
You need to believe in the habits you are trying to adopt. If you don't see the value in something, you won't be able to make it a habit. Especially if it is something you don't like to do; like eat healthy foods or exercising.
However, if you recognize the importance of something, you can still be successful.
The value of things supersedes what we want to do - all the time.
A simple example: Homework. Not many kids want to do homework. But it has been established as important, so they have a habit of completing it everyday - anyway.
This is a personal conversation on your priorities, so be honest with yourself. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is much different than fad diets and exercise crazes.
Those are more like short sprints of discipline, and honestly don't last.
Changing daily choices for the long haul takes time, strategy, and at times patience.
Write a pros and cons list that includes sacrifices you would need to make and benefits you would gain
Research statistics in the healthcare industry that include personal costs, mortality rates for unhealthy lifestyle related diseases
Look into your family health history to see if there are any concerns that could possibly be prevented with lifestyle adjustments
You can develop good lifestyle habits if you value them as being important. It starts by determining what you find important enough to incorporate in your life, long term.
2. The Power of Visualization
Each morning (or evening), take a few minutes to visualize yourself doing the habit you want to place in your life, including all the little things that seem insignificant.
Dr. Andrew Huberman shared a recent study highlighting the neuroscience behind creating, maintaining and even breaking habits.
Among other techniques, Dr. Huberman explained what procedural memory is and how it can be used to visualize and create habits.
Procedural memory is when our brain knows how to do something without intentional effort. For instance, riding a bike or swimming. Once learned, it is automatic for our brain to repeat the function.
Procedural memory function is engaged during visualization and can be used to create habits, and according to Dr. Huberman, "the literature is quite robust".
"Simply visualizing the trivial steps required to execute a habit even just once, from start to finish, can shift people towards a much higher likelihood of performing that habit regularly".
Studies show we can implement, alter and even correct behaviors by visualizing ourselves completing the task we are trying to establish or thought process we want to embrace.
We have circuits within the brain that are devoted to remembering "grouped events".
Not only does our brain remember a habit, but also our habitual routines.
It remembers what we do right before and right after certain events.
Dr. Huberman used the example of brushing teeth.
Mindlessly, we brush our teeth every morning, even if we didn't sleep well or feeling stressed about work. But, not only do we brush our teeth, we also habitually put on deodorant or brush our hair.
According to Dr. Huberman, this is important because when events are bracketed together within our brain, they are more likely to be completed.
Visualize what you will do before, during, and after
Dr. Huberman stated "task bracketing is the most powerful tool for implementing or correcting habits".
Studies show the order we do things is relevant to how well the brain remembers them
Visualize not only the habit itself, but also what we do before and after.
For instance, if you are creating the habit to cook, rather than getting take out, you would visualize all the steps to do so.
Driving home from work
Passing various restaurants
Pulling into your neighborhood
Cooking / eating dinner
Relaxing on the couch
Visualizing yourself completing these simple steps won't take you much longer in the visualization process. But it does increase your organization and execution of your goals.
Replace, Don't Quit
It can be tough to stop certain habits, but it is possible. Many addicts from all varieties have mastered their tendencies and are better for it.
I have found that it isn't always an alcoholic or smoker who need to tackle vices.
Often, emotional eating is a factor. Also depression has a role in daily movement & motivation. Events that bring these types of responses on are going to happen.
Task bracketing can be helpful to replace a negative habit or response. Visualize the event(s) that triggers you, a better way you will respond, and what you will do to celebrate that choice.
I have found one of the best strategies is replacing rather than quitting a habit. This is especially true for life situations that will unavoidably happen.
A few examples:
If you binge on chocolate every time you and your spouse argue - get in front of that. Decide instead to go for a walk the If you next time that happens.
If you have sugar cravings at night, stock the house full of wild berries and other low sugar fruit. At least you are now getting fiber and antioxidants
If you feel depressed and want to crawl under the covers, tell yourself you can do that after you serve just one person (even if that's just sending a happy text)
Be realistic with yourself. If you tend to respond to situations in a way that derails your goals, take time to create new habits.
Acknowledging your struggle with certain situations is empowering, not weakening. It can enable you to become healthier emotionally and physically.
Finally, be patient with yourself. Life is a process. No one is perfect, nor has all the answers. that is certainly true for me.
In fact, this week as I've written this, I've recognized an area I need to use these techniques in my own life. It has been a worth while refresher - so i thank you for allowing me to share!
Dr. Andrew Huberman's full Video