Transforming habits to achieve your goals

Maintaining an active lifestyle

Why is it sometimes so hard to find motivation, either to start a new regime, or keep going with an existing you thought you had down to a tee? Catching a cold, coping with an increased work load or going away on holiday (or a business trip) may throw a spanner in the works for any well-working healthy living regime.

Diet and exercise

When it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle, we do not only talk about achieving this via a dedicated diet, but also by keeping an exercise schedule. For most, changing just one thing is challenging enough. To succeed, we need to change our habits. To do this, we need to understand how habits are created, how they survive and how new ones can become the norm.

Brothers Jamie and Matt Staples, for example, took on the challenge to weigh the same as each other in 12 months time. One had to loose weight, the other one needed to add weight on. They achieved their goal by creating new habits together.

Changing habits

As Charles Duhigg describes in his book The Power of Habit, it is more or less impossible to end a bad habit. The only real possibility is to replace a habit with a new one. To be able to create a new – and better – habit, we need to look at the ‘the habit loop’. The habit loop consists of three parts; the cue, the routine and the reward.

  • The cue; the event which starts it off.
  • The routine; the habit itself.
  • The reward; the benefit you get from doing the habit.

To illustrate this with an everyday example; Imagine you check the weather forecast every morning. You see that there is rain forecast. (cue). As a result, you bring your umbrella (routine) and you stay dry (reward). Staying dry makes you happy, so you will repeat this action every morning, thus turning this into a habit.

Identifying the cue


Let’s look at a more health-related example; You have lots and lots going on at work and as a result you can’t keep up with your exercise regime or your carefully thought-through eating plan.

Breaking a bad habit


You find out that every day you go to the cafeteria and buy a coffee and a pastry around 2:30pm. Logic tells you that having recently had lunch, you shouldn’t be hungry at that time. To stop this bad habit, you decide to not go to the cafeteria, but instead leave your desk and go for a chat with a few people at their desks.

Photo by louisehoffmann83 / CC0 1.0

CAPTION : Chatting with colleagues


Creating a new habit


The key to a permanent change is to create a new habit instead of the old one. According to Duhigg, “you can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it”.

For most people, creating a new habit consists of a four-step process. It is worth noting that there isn’t one fireproof model which works for everyone, but below is one approach which may work for some of you;

First of all, you need to identify the routine, the habit you are looking to change. You then need to understand the cravings and underlying reasons that drive this behaviour; why are you doing it?

Once you understand why you behave in a certain way, it’s time to identify what triggers the behaviour. Typically, triggers will be either related to location (where are you), time (what time is it), emotions (are you happy, sad, stressed, etc), people (who is with you) or other actions you’ve just performed (what happened just before).

Finally, as you can’t control the cue and you can’t change the reward, your focus must be on changing the routine or habit; whilst still achieving the same reward. To be able doing this, you need to create a plan to follow every time the cue comes. In the example above, you head to the cafeteria for something sweet, but you decide to change this to go for a chat with a few of your colleagues.


By being aware of the cue for your habits, good and bad, you can achieve the rewards you need; by deliberately changing the actions you take following the cue. As with all habits, it’ll take some time before you have successfully got rid of the bad habits and developed better ones. But, as long as you correctly identify the cue, you can address the habit and achieve the reward you crave.

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Neha Kava

National Registered Dietitian at
Neha Kava is a National Certified Registered Dietitian in India. She likes to share her knowledge about daily health, nutritition and diet tips. You can contact her on [email protected]

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