When I think back to this time last year I feel as though I was a completely different person. There were so many aspects of my life that I wanted to improve and I was totally overwhelmed with all the changes I felt I needed to make all at once. At the time my three children were age five and under and pretty much all of my time and effort was devoted to looking after them. It felt like I was in a continuous cycle of sleepless nights and low energy, so I didn’t know how I would find the time or energy to start focusing on me.
My list of changes included:
- Increasing my energy levels
- Getting my fitness levels up
- Strengthening my core
- Losing half a stone on the scales
- Stopping my daily bad eating habits (e.g. snacking on chocolate every evening, my morning lattes and pastries to name but a few)
- Putting a plan in place for getting my career back on track.
One sunny Saturday morning I had decided enough was enough and without really thinking about it, I woke up, got my running gear on and went for a run. It was the best thing for me – my mind immediately cleared of any negative thoughts and my spirits were lifted. This feeling alone was enough for me to do the same thing the very next morning. Over the weeks, I began to forget about my list of self-improvements and just focused on fitting in time for my runs every other day. For me, early morning runs seemed to work really well as my husband was able to look after the kids or they would all be sleeping blissfully!! I also had less chance to talk myself out of exercising and it felt like a great achievement to start my day off in a really positive way.
I realised that making just one change in my life had sparked off a whole chain of amazing benefits:
- I had a much more positive outlook
- My confidence levels increased and I stopped focusing on my insecurities
- I naturally wanted to drink more water and no longer craved my morning fattening lattes
- I felt motivated to eat more healthily as I didn’t want to feel stodgy and fill my body with junk when I had put so much effort in to my run
- I was no longer craving sugar in the evenings as my energy levels had massively increased
- I felt that I had gained some control back in my life
- I found that I was much more patient with my children
Some of the benefits, I’m sure, were probably due to the endorphin rush that comes with exercising. These are the body’s natural feel good chemicals which not only reduce our perception of pain, but also trigger a positive ‘euphoric’ feeling in the body.
For me, running became an excellent habit that in turn got rid of so many of my bad habits, without me even thinking about it!
The Habit Loop
Charles Duhigg references the habit loop in his book The Power of Habit. This loop is at the core of understanding how we can create or modify existing habits and consists of three parts – a cue, a routine and a reward.
I had created a new habit, my cue was to wake up and see my running gear by the side of my bed, my routine was the run and the reward was the amazing feeling of self-achievement afterwards. This loop is driven by the ‘craving’ of the reward and of course, most importantly willpower!
When trying to change an existing habit, it is often possible to do this by keeping the existing cue and reward but retraining your brain by replacing the routine. As the example below shows, a habit has been created where a cue for feeling low has triggered someone to eat unhealthily and the reward is for them to feel pleasure. If the brain could be retrained to react in a different way when feeling low like listening to the person’s favourite music, the reward could potentially be the same and so the bad habit loop could be broken.
It is interesting that over the Christmas period I have not been running or exercising at all and sure enough, my bad habits are gradually coming back in to play, each one with its very own habit loop. I will now need to set a cue in place for my good habits again and once I do this, everything else should just fall back in to place.
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