Like it or not we are all creatures of habit. Some habits are good for us, others are not, and it doesn’t take long for bad habits – drinking, smoking, over-indulging or even laziness – to over-ride our good intentions to live a healthy lifestyle.
So how do we go about developing new and better habits that can lead to a permanently healthier lifestyle? You may be surprised to know that chocolate could be the key!
The good news is that our brains are wired to adopt new habits but first we have to eradicate the old ones that may be holding us back. But you can’t just remove something from your life and replace it with nothing – this will leave you feeling unfulfilled and craving the very thing you’re trying to avoid.
In his insightful book, ‘The Power of Habit’, award-winning author Charles Duhigg introduces a three-step process for replacing tired old habits with fresh new ones. Duhigg explains that at the core of our habits lies a neurological loop comprising three stages: a cue, a routine and a reward.
Everyone has their own unique habit loops. The routine and reward stages are quite easy to identify. For example, the routine of eating a cookie with a cup of tea may lead to the reward of a some much-needed ‘me-time’. The tough part is identifying the cue - what triggers the routine? Is it sitting in front of the TV or perhaps relaxing after putting the kids to bed?
Once the cue has been identified we can set about trying to replace the routine associated with a cue and reward. In the example above, the new routine might be to call a friend instead. The cue is the same, as is the ‘me-time’ emotional reward – but not at the same cost to your waistline!
So how can chocolate fit in to the habit loop? Let’s say you want to change your routine of sleeping in late, and take up running instead. Your habit loop could look like this:
Leave your trainers at the end of the bed the night before (cue)
Set your alarm 20 minutes earlier and take a short jog around the park (routine)
Eat a piece of dark chocolate after you get home (reward)
Repeat the new loop several times and soon you’ll be excited at the very sight of your trainers, as your brain learns to anticipate the reward that follows the new routine.
Of course you’ll need to stick to your habit, come rain or shine, and not hide your trainers in the cupboard … but we didn’t say it would be pain-free!