Trigger Healthy Habits

At the end of the day, it’s all about habits, isn’t it? If on one day you skip your exercise routine or eat a triple cheeseburger at McDonald’s, you may feel a little down, but it’s not going to kill you. But it takes multiple conscious decisions, every single day, to keep you living at your healthiest and happiest. And that’s the difficulty of making healthy choices.

One of the best pieces of advice for making healthy habits part of your regular routine is to focus on one habit at a time, which is the focus of Leo Babatua’s book, The Power of Less. Decide one small change you can make, take it from being something that you’re hoping to fit into your life and turn it into something that is as natural to you as putting on your pants in the morning. And then begin again with the next small change. A very worth endeavor, but how do we get from doing the habit once to doing it once per day (or hour, or week, or whatever metric you set)?

You could get an app, set an alarm, or follow a myriad of other strategies, but I had a very interesting experiment last week as I tried to make two different habits stick.

My two habits:

  • Start my work day by taking care of three emails on my to-do list
  • Soak the quinoa and nuts that I make every morning for breakfast overnight.

Habit one was super easy. Every day: wake up, to my computer, three emails, boom, done.
Habit number two went more like: wake up, to my computer, three emails, realize I didn’t soak the quinoa, woops!

Why was writing the three emails so easy, while soaking quinoa was so difficult, even though soaking grains is less mentally taxing and time consuming? The issue, I realized, was that the emails were tied to a habit I already had, waking up and going to my computer, while soaking quinoa was a random new task that I didn’t have programmed in my brain as a normal activity. After many frustrating days of forgetting my new habit, I started to daisy chain my new habit to something that was already in my routine: washing my dinner dishes became a little reminder that it was time to put quinoa on to soak as well. By linking my new habit to a habit that was well-established, I began to remember to soak quinoa more often, even if I was not making dinner that day! It was really amazing.

Leo has talked about the link between triggers and habits before, but this was the first time I had put it to use. Leo says to choose a trigger that is already firmly ingrained in your routine and that you do every day. I would add to choose a trigger that is in the same geographic location (e.g., your kitchen) or is somehow related to your new habit, to help your brain along in creating that bond.

Choosing the healthy route isn’t always the easiest, but it sure does feel good.

More habit resources:

2 Responses to “Trigger Healthy Habits”

  1. […] I’ve mentioned the importance of soaking grains to reduce their phytate content before, but to recap – while there are lots of great nutrients in grains and beans, many of these nutrients are bound to phytate, and can’t be absorbed by the body. Soaking these foods, however, activates the enzyme phytase, which breaks down the phytate and allows your body to absorb the vitamins and minerals. So to get the full benefit of the calcium, magnesium, and the other vitamins, soak your oats, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and almonds! […]

Leave a Reply