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  • Writer's pictureRestorative Therapy Co.

How to Break Old Habits and Form Healthy Habits

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

Adapted from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear

Contributed by Andrew Lantz, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, CMTPT, and co-owner of RTC.

We all have habits. Some good, some bad, some mundane. We are really just a sum of all of our habits. But how are habits formed? How do I stop a bad habit? And on the flip side, how do I form a good habit?

There are four stages of habit formation:

We have the cue, the craving, the response, and the reward.

The cue is the element that triggers the brain to notice an opportunity for a reward or pleasure. A cue can be a smell, a sound, an event, an interaction, or anything else that triggers a desire known as the craving.

The craving is the emotional relevance attached to a certain cue. When you notice the cue, the brain anticipates an opportunity for a change in your physical or emotional state. You crave the satisfaction that change will elicit, and this craving is what prompts you to act.

The response is the actual behavior, or habit, performed to elicit the change you desire. Your brain prompts you to take a certain action it believes will create the feeling of satisfaction you want.

The reward is the satisfaction gained from the action taken. When you experience a reward, you have successfully satisfied your craving and changed your physical and emotional state. The brain builds a pathway from the cue to this state of pleasure. Every time you experience the same cue, the brain will be triggered to desire that pleasure again. You will be prompted to perform the same action, thereby creating a habit.

To break a bad habit, it will be best to make the cue invisible, the craving unattractive, the response difficult, and the reward unsatisfying. You also don’t necessarily erase or eradicate a bad habit, but rather, replace it with a good habit.

Cut out as many triggers as possible. This is probably the most important when starting to break your bad habit because it makes the cue invisible. If you smoke when you drink, then don’t go to the bar. If you eat cookies when they are in the house, then throw them all away. If the first thing you do when you sit on the couch is pick up the TV remote, then hide the remote in a closet in a different room. Make it easier on yourself to break bad habits by avoiding the things that cause them.

Surround yourself with people who live the way you want to live. Right now, your environment makes your bad habit easier and good habits harder. Change your environment and you can change the outcome. You don't need to ditch your old friends, but don't underestimate the power of finding some new ones. Striving to be more like people who positively influence you will make the craving unattractive, the response difficult and the reward unsatisfying.

It's ok if you fail. Plan for failure. We all slip up every now and then.

To form a good habit, you must make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. Say you want to eat more fruit for example. Make it obvious. Don’t hide your fruits in your fridge, put them on display front and center. Make it attractive. Start with the fruit you like the most, so you’ll actually want to eat one when you see it. Make it easy. Don’t create needless friction by focusing on fruits that are hard to peel. Bananas and apples are super easy to eat. Make it satisfying. If you like the fruit you picked, you’ll love eating it and will feel healthier as a result.

In short, to start a new healthy habit, break down barriers to make it easy and satisfying. To break an old unhealthy habit, do just the opposite, put up barriers and make it unsatisfying.

At Restorative Therapy Co., we are here to listen to your story and help you start and continue healthy lifestyle practices, whether that means participating as part of a healthy community in one of our yoga classes or improving your posture, strength, and stamina to decrease your pain with one of our physical therapists at our Virginia Beach studio. Call 757-578-2958 or visit today for more information.


Welcome Ashley Scifres to the Restorative Therapy Co. Team

Ashley received her Bachelors of Science in Sports Medicine from the University of Virginia and her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Old Dominion University. She has spent the last 11 years working as a physical therapist in a variety of settings: inpatient rehab, hospital acute care, home health, and outpatient. Ashley has extensive experience with postural correction, core stability training, orthopedic conditions, geriatrics, post-stroke rehabilitation, and balance training. She is also certified as a Pilates mat instructor.

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