Article By: Whittany Gibson, RDN
Whittany is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in bariatric nutrition counseling, providing education and support prior to and following weight loss surgery.
Are you feeling discouraged and unmotivated due to not being able to kick bad habits? It’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. We all struggle with forming new habits and breaking unhelpful ones, but we can make meaningful changes by investing time in ourselves. Whether it’s wanting to exercise more or break a cycle of negative thinking — following James Clear's systematic approaches outlined in his bestselling book Atomic Habits will empower you to replace bad habits with good ones. Cue, craving, response, and reward are the four laws of habit change. Let’s take a deeper look at each of them and how to get started.
1) Make it obvious (cue). "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
Cues are also known as triggers. Cues give us the idea that a reward is within reach if we do the work to get it. But how do we do this? Creating new habits requires making them obvious and easy to follow. This means setting up reminders, cues, and triggers to prompt or trigger you to act. For example, if you want to start exercising regularly, set aside a specific time each day for your workout and pack or place your exercise clothes in an easy-to-access spot so they are ready when it's time to go. Do whatever you can to set yourself up for whatever you intend to do.
2) Make it attractive (craving). "Your environment is your mind's biggest influence."
The second step in breaking old habits and forming new ones is to make them attractive. There should be a craving or a motivating force behind wanting to create the new habit. You don’t crave the habit; you crave the feeling the habit will give you. Do you crave the feeling of being calm instead of stressed? This is what the habit of meditation would do for you. Do you crave the feeling of being strong and fit? The practice of exercise would satisfy this craving to change.
3) Make it easy (response). “If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then you won’t do it.”
The third step in breaking old habits and forming new ones is to make it easy. This means taking small steps towards achieving your desired behavior so that it becomes easier over time. For example, if you want to start meal planning and prepping more often, you could begin by planning two to three dinners a week. As you become more comfortable with the process, you can add a few lunches. Before you know it, most of your meals for the week are planned, and it feels like second nature. Making the process easier will make you more likely to stick with it and form a new habit. Start small!
4) Make it satisfying (reward). “Rewards close the feedback loop and complete the habit cycle.”
Clear states that the purpose of rewards is to satisfy the craving. Was it peace and calm you were aiming for? Was that achieved after you started the habit of meditating? So then, peace and calm is the reward. You sought out something you craved, responded to it, and now you are rewarded with what you wanted. Cycle complete!
There is no denying that changing a habit is not an easy journey, but it is possible. Utilizing these four strategies can help make the process easier and more achievable (if you’re prepared to put in the hard work and dedication). So get out there and start making small changes that will add up to big improvements over time! To quote James Clear, “You can't have success without a change in behavior, and you can't create behavior change without first influencing your habits. Master your habits, master your life.”
BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.