The 4-Step Process to Making Any Health Behavior Habit

Make any behavior a habit with these steps.

Posted Oct 09, 2020

When I think of change, I imagine external and internal changes. We can change what we do, and we can change who we are.

External changes can come fast. If I am not exercising or eating healthy food, I can change that right now. I could go for a walk. I could eat vegetables.

Consistency is the challenging part. You can exercise but that does not mean you are an “exerciser.” You can eat healthily but that does not mean you consider yourself a healthy person. Consistency is what drives internal changes. Consistency is what leads to habit development and identity change.

I am going to take you through a 4-step process to:

  1. Help you identify what you want to do.
  2. Plan when and where you will do it.
  3. Monitor your behavior.
  4. Adjust your system to guarantee consistency.

Focus Mapping

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet asked his pilot if he had bigger goals than flying him around. The pilot confessed that he did. Buffet told him to give a value to each of his goals in terms of interest and importance on a scale of 1-10 and eliminate the goals with lower scores.

I encourage you to do the same with your health goals. Think about the goals you have and rate them according to their interest and importance. Then multiply the scores together. Which goal is closest to 100? Pick that one.

Next, is focus mapping, a technique developed by Dr. BJ Fogg. Brainstorm the behaviors that you may do to reach this goal. Let’s say your goal was to lose 20 pounds in 30 weeks. Brainstorm all the behaviors you could do to. Maybe you would eat more vegetables, join a spin class, go for walks after dinner, or lift weights.

Next, rank your choices on a scale of 1-10 in terms of perceived impact. Which behaviors do you believe will have a high impact? Last, rate your behaviors on a scale of 1-10 in terms of the perceived likelihood that you will do the behaviors.

Choose behaviors that you believe you will do that also will have an impact on your goals. At this point, you may have a list of 2-5 different behaviors.

Implementation Intentions

Implementation intentions give details to our intentions. Implementation intentions describe when and where the behavior will be carried out. If you decided to run three times per week, your implementation intention may look like this:

“After I drink my first cup of coffee, I will go for my run”

Examine your plan and make sure you have the necessary resources to carry it out. If your implementation intention was “If I am making dinner, then I will add vegetables” and you do not have vegetables, you need to plan to go to the store. Make sure each plan is achievable—and if not, obtain the resources to make it so.

Self-Monitoring

Planning increases the likelihood of action. But we need to make sure we monitor progress. We need to set goals, strive for them, and evaluate what went well or what needs to change. Self-monitoring is keeping a record of whether you did the behavior. This is a great tool to increase awareness of antecedents of behavior.

You can identify what triggered a behavior. Who were you with? What were you feeling? Identify what caused the behavior you wanted to do or what thwarted it.

Did you skip the run because you were tired? Did you eat ice cream instead of vegetables because of an urge?

Self-monitoring provides objective feedback on behaviors and can be useful to identify useful strategies on how to behave differently when similar situations arise.

*Gain access to a daily self-monitoring prompt HERE

Adjust Your System

Let’s say one of your selected behaviors was to eat vegetables for dinner on six nights of the week. You made an implementation intention and monitored your progress. When you look back, you realize you missed the goal and had vegetables with three meals instead of six. Ask yourself: Why did you come up short? Was it a motivation, opportunity, or capability issue?

Once you identify the reason why you came up short, you can implement corrective action. Maybe one night you forgot; what do you do? Another night you just did not feel like making vegetables; what do you do?

If you forgot, this means you need to set a prompt or make the vegetables more visible. If you were not motivated to do it, remind yourself of why your goal is important or recruit social support to make up for any lack of motivation. There are dozens of solutions at hand for whatever barrier you experience. Your goal is to monitor your behavior, identify the issue, and then address it.

If you can follow these four steps over time, the consistency with which you act on your good intentions will increase—and with time, these behaviors are more likely to become habitual.

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