There comes a point in our lives where we hope to change a particular pattern or behaviour about ourselves so that we become more productive, successful, or healthy. We can do this by recognizing our current behaviors or habits that are less ideal, by replacing them with ones that are better suited to our overall health. Who we are today is based on the habits we have developed over time. We can monitor ourselves by coming up with habit tracker ideas, such as, tracking how much we smoke and when, or how much we eat and why. Self tracking apps have the ability to support individuals in the process of adapting and sustaining a new healthy behaviour. (R)
What are habits?
Habits are the responses we have to a contextual cue that we have learned early on in our lives. It is a way we respond to a situation with little conscious effort. A habit is considered to be a construct that provides a unique insight into explaining, predicting, and controlling repeated actions. (R) For example, if you are a smoker and you always smoke while you drink coffee, without any conscious effort you always go to light a cigarette with your coffee. Another example is when you wash laundry, you put your clothes in the machine add the detergent and turn the machine on, it takes little to no conscious effort.
To recognize and understand these repeated actions, one might start self-tracking using an app, such as the CareClinic app. As people we have good habits and we also have those pesky habits we wish we could shake. To help us get started, we can use trackers such as CareClinic, to monitor our current habits to prepare for behaviour change or habit formation.
It is important to note that our habits or our wish to change our behaviours are different from goals and attitudes. (R) When we have goals that we want to attain, we are driven by our determination to reach that “object or aim”. (R)
How do we form habits?
From a young age we develop our habits based on context. When we are in a situation, it prompts an automatic action that activates a “mental context or an action association” that we have previously learned through behaviours. (R) Our habits gain more power based on how many times in the past we have carried out the habitual behaviour in a similar context. (R)
To put simply, individuals develop a new habit through a combination of repetition and reward. When we continuously repeat an action which yields a reward, we are cognitively developing a new habit. Alternately, when acting out of habit, an individual’s response is prompted automatically through the perception of relevant context cues. If there are cues, or sets of cues or a context present, the behaviour must be repeated several times so that the cue-behaviour (context- behaviour) associations may develop.
If people are in the same environment, they will perform automated behaviours the same way every single time, for example, brushing your teeth. However, some studies have shown that, if we take a vacation, and the environment changes, it is likely that the behaviour will change. This is one of the reasons why taking a vacation can be relaxing, it can help with breaking certain habits. While on vacation, all of a person’s regular cues and their rewards are not there; this may be a good time to try and change a habit and may be successful at it too. People have the opportunity to form a new pattern and hopefully they will be able to continue it after into their life. (R)
Can we change our habits?
Habit formation and health
Developing new habits is part of the behaviour change process. When a habit is triggered and we act out a response without using much conscious thought, it is like being on automatic pilot. Operating on autopilot is not ideal as it is not effective when we want to change a behaviour. (R)
When a person decides to change their behaviour and acts on it, the action needs to be regularly repeated. The new behaviour needs to turn into a habit. The repetition of the action needs to be maintained until the task becomes automatic to make sure the change becomes permanent.
Habits are formed as behaviors are repeated consistently, whereby the repetition helps create associations between the tasks and the cues. behaviors on the other hand, can be considered automatic when it reaches a period of being automatic such as being “second nature” whereby developing the asymptote (the connection that represents the relationship between the repetition and habit).
The number of repetitions required to reach the asymptote depends on the complexity of the tasks and can vary from the length of 18 days for easy tasks (e.g. drinking more water) to an estimated 254 days for more complex tasks (e.g. building the habit of going to the gym). However, repetition alone is not enough to form a habit.
Cues along with trigger events support the habit formation process, they are the basis in advancing the behavior. Our existing routines can be used as prompts to drive action. Tasks that are linked to routine events (event-based tasks such as taking medication after breakfast) are generally easier to remember than tasks that need to be completed at a specified time (time-based tasks, like meditating at 10 PM every day).
Building new habits
The Habit Loop
Forming a new habit is a three-part process
It turns out that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop,” which is a 3-part process.
- A cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.
- When trying to build a new habit, start by thinking about what could cue that habit (for example If you want to exercise more, maybe your cue could be an alarm on your phone). Once you know your desired habit’s cue, you should think about the final part of the “habit loop,” the reward.
- Routine (behavior)
- The routine, which is the behavior itself, “That’s what we think about when we think about habits.”
- Reward (satisfaction)
- The third step is the reward: something that your brain likes that helps it remember the “habit loop” in the future.
- Forming habits is hard, so be sure to build in rewards to incentivize yourself (give yourself a yummy snack after a run or spend the evening watching tv if you’ve done your habit all week). You could even reward yourself while you are performing your habit.
Understanding Your Habits
It’s not always simple to isolate the cues and rewards that we are used to and put into a graph. The only way to know for sure is through slow experimentation.
The exact science of behavioral change is complicated, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to affect beneficial change in your life. The problem is that most of us start too big when we want to build good habits into our lives. We can end up wanting to pursue a new goal if we get caught up in the moment. We forget that any lasting change takes a lot of time to build.
The power of a keystone habit draws from its ability to change your self image. Basically, anything can become a keystone habit if it has this power to make you see yourself in a different way. If you’re just starting out, don’t go chasing after every bit of positive change at once. Rather, start with a habit that makes you see yourself as the kind of person you want to be.
You’re in Control
You’re still in control. You determine whether a small habit compounds into achievement years later or a bad one leads to a downward spiral. Realization of this simple fact is the first step to changing your behavior. (R) (R)
What we know from lab studies is that it’s never too late to break a habit. Habits are malleable throughout your entire life. But we also know that the best way to change a habit is to understand its structure — that once you tell people about the cue and the reward and you force them to recognize what those factors are in a behavior, it becomes much, much easier to change. Studies have shown that people will perform automated behaviors — like pulling out of a driveway or brushing teeth — the same way every single time, if they’re in the same environment. But if they take a vacation, it’s likely that the behavior will change. That’s one of the reasons why taking a vacation is so relaxing: It helps break certain habits.
“It’s also a great reason why changing a habit on a vacation is one of the proven most-successful ways to do it,” he says. “If you want to quit smoking, you should stop smoking while you’re on a vacation — because all your old cues and all your old rewards aren’t there anymore. So you have this ability to form a new pattern and hopefully be able to carry it over into your life.” (R)
Habit Tracker Ideas
If you want to make a change to develop new and healthy habits, a great way is to use the CareClinic app. You can start by tracking your current behaviors and see where you want to make a change and what behaviors you wish to attain. There are many features to the CareClinic app to help you achieve success on your journey to a healthy lifestyle. In addition, within the CareClinic app, you can also use a health diary app or a wellness tracker to monitor your health quickly and to keep up with the changes you would like to make to your health.
Why you should track your habits?
We know that our habits are developed from repeated automatized behavior and performed with little to no conscious thought. For this reason, it is important to track your habits so that it can provide you with more insight and self-awareness of your actions. We can become more self-aware of our actions by tracking each habit with the CareClinic app. We can use the app’s various features to make note of the time we perform the action, the surrounding cues in the environment, to check in with ourselves and much more. When we track our habits using the app, we can see if there are any correlations between any of the details we input.
For example, if a person makes note of the times they perform their habits (why they might reach for a cigarette when they go to drink coffee) and make a diary entry of what they are feeling at that moment, and what is happening in their surroundings, they might be able to see why they reach for the cigarette. The same can be said if a person is trying to understand why they always reach for an unhealthy snack (a chocolate bar, piece of cake etc.).
The difficulty of breaking undesirable habits is that the person may still feel satisfaction or pleasure from the habit. This may mean that they are still experiencing the reward part of the habit loop. This is when a person could use a pre-existing cue to develop a healthier habit; perhaps replace the action (i.e. reach for an apple instead of a chocolate bar).
What to track?
We can use the CareClinic app to track our current behaviors and to track our progress for developing new habits. With the CareClinic app you can create your own care plan and you can create multiple care plans if you want to monitor other areas of your health. You can use the various features in the app to suit your needs. Within each care plan you can also create your own care team.
Your care team can include a healthcare practitioner of your choice, such as a doctor or nurse. You can even include a family member, or friend. You can share progress with your team and they can give you feedback, provide support, and keep you accountable. Depending on the habit you are trying to develop or break you can create your own plan to suit you. There are also many plans readily available for you to select from.
With the diary entry feature, you can make entries throughout the day about how you are feeling. You can note how your day is going, any noticeable cues or what your surroundings are. This is especially useful if you are aware of your habit as well. The diary feature also allows you to add pictures to your entry. This is a great feature if you are making dietary changes for weight management.
The symptom tracker allows you to input any symptoms you are experiencing. You can use this to track the symptoms before, during, and after any treatments you are seeking. Or you can track symptoms according to the habit you are trying to develop or break. For example, if you want to quit smoking, you might track any side effects while you smoke. You can then compare it to how you feel as you reduce your number of cigarettes and after you have quit. The positive changes you feel could be your reward when reflecting on the habit loop.
Another great feature is the nutrition tracker, which has built-in food selections. You can log your daily meals and snacks throughout the day. This is beneficial when someone is looking to make changes to their diet. This is regardless of whether their new habit change is to have healthier meals. Examples can include to eat more fruit daily, or for weight management.
The reports feature is a great feature that can provide a lot of insight into your behavior change. It takes information you have logged into your care plan features (i.e. diary, nutrition, symptoms etc.) and generates a report. This report will show any correlation between the details you logged. For example, if you experience a symptom related to food.
As repetition is one of the key components to building a new habit, the reminders feature part of the CareClinic app can assist with this. You can create multiple reminders throughout the day and have them repeat on multiple days if you choose. If the right cues are in place, these reminders can help you with the repetition needed with your behavior change.
Habits can be really tough to form, and even tougher to kick. The CareClinic app is your solution to change your life.