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The Science of Creating Healthy Habits : 3 Steps to Make or Break a Habit

A lot of us have left our New Year’s Resolutions in the dust. We’re knee-deep in winter, and those healthy wannabe habits have been replaced by hibernating and comfort foods. Why is it so hard to change?

In the book, Essentialism, author Greg McKeown describes the powerful impact routine has on your brain, “As we repeatedly do a certain task the neurons, or nerve cells, make new connections through communication gateways called ‘synapses.’ With repetition, the connections strengthen, and it becomes easier for the brain to activate them.”

How many times have you driven to work and have done it on autopilot? You can do that because it’s a habit. How easy is it to make a favorite meal by memory? That’s because you’ve done it enough that it’s a habit.

How do you form a healthy habit and make it stick?

To build a habit, researchers from MIT say you have to create a “habit loop.” A habit loop is a sequence of cue, routine and reward. When you follow these steps, you can either make or even break a habit.

The Cue
The cue is what prompts you to perform the habit. A trigger. It could be indulging in a big meal that prompts you to light up a cigarette, or it could be your alarm going off in the morning that triggers you to get out of bed and stretch or work out.

The Routine
The routine is the habit that you want to change or strengthen. Going with the example above, it would be working out or quitting smoking.

Cue: alarm going off
Routine: working out

Cue: eating big meal
Routine: smoking a cigarette

The Reward
The reward is the payoff. It’s the reason why your brain will keep wanting to perform the routine. It’s the positive reinforcement that helps guarantee you’ll do the behavior again and create a habit.

For some, the reward for working out can be as simple as the endorphins or “runner’s high” they get when they finish a workout. Or for others, the reward is buying smaller clothes.

Added advice

If you’re thinking sheer motivation will carry you through to habit loop success, think again. Motivation is a great start, but discipline will get you to your goal of creating a new habit.

When you’re not feeling motivated, being committed to your process – discipline – will keep that loop going.

It never hurts to grab a friend to hold you accountable to your habit building, too.

Looking for friends to build healthy habits with? Check out our classes at McConnell Heart Health Center or Grant Health and Fitness Center.


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