Do You Have A Leaky Health Habit?

Changing habits can be a challenge. We have resistance to change, even to the changes we ourselves proclaim we want.

Do you always eat popcorn at the movies?

Do you always have a cup of coffee after dinner?

Do you always drink wine while cooking?

Do you stay connected to the internet until bedtime?

Whether you want to start a habit or stop a habit we know that cues and triggers come into play. Cues help you create a new habit and triggers are often the thing that makes us continue a habit we want to stop. Finishing a meal, for instance, for those trying to stop smoking, has always been a big trigger. Because you have this natural association with two things, these triggers if left in tact, will make it harder to make change stick.

I’ve included below some ways to prevent triggers from getting in your way and cues that can make new habits easier. Use them as examples and then brainstorm with the habits you’d like to break or new habits you want to create.

Portrait of happy mother and daughter sitting on sofa in furniture store
Change your environment:

  • Rearrange the furniture. Especially if you have habits that are triggered right when you walk in the door. Make the room different and it might help reset the order of events.
  • Move the TV room away from food. Remove foods you don’t want to eat from your environment.
  • Increase the convenience of exercise (weights, stationary bike, yoga mat)

28 Day kickstartMake it more fun:

  • Place a TV in front of the bike
  • Put the bike in a room you love with window light instead of the basement.

Give yourself cues that trigger the positive habit you want:

  • Get a dog that requires walking (extreme!) or volunteer for the shelter.
  • Put the foam roller in the TV room.

Woman Exercising with Television

Make change natural:

  • Create single serving containers of foods you typically overindulge in.
  • Put good-for-you snacks in your purse.
  • Keep exercise shoes or a gym bag in the car.
  • Use smaller plates and bowls.
  • Fill plates and bowls at the stove or counter instead of at the table.

Make it easier to change.

Substitute a habit you want to change for a new healthier habit. Flip, don’t just skip. For instance, flip your soda consumption with sparkling water with lemon and a few drops of stevia. If you have always gotten popcorn when you go to the movies, bring nuts or seeds with you instead. Get a water instead of a soda.

Keep a consistent schedule to increase your new habit strength.

Time of day is a cue.

Enhance your skill (people who start golf late in life vs. younger are trying to change a lot of things at once) by taking lessons or meeting with a trainer. Follow videos and a plan lain out for you so it isn’t so “thought” heavy. When you have fewer details to think about and can just get yourself ready and go into action, skill-heavy activities become much easier to adopt.

I started training for triathlon in my late 30s. I had ran, biked, and swam for fitness before that. When I began seriously riding my bike for triathlon training at 40 though, everything about it was new. On the other hand, I had been a lifeguard since I was 16 and a runner since I was 18. Most often I would default to running. It was both the most convenient and least skill reliant. Swimming was the next frequent thing I did. The pool was at work so it was fairly convenient. Biking, though, held a lot of obstacles for me. I found the shorts, the shoes, pumping up the tires, putting it on my bike rack, preparing the water bottles, and nutrition was all a chore. That was all even before I had to deal with the fact I wasn’t yet comfortable with my clip-in shoes, wearing a helmet, and shifting gears.

I did not feel comfortable on a bike.

Until I did. You too can feel more comfortable with whatever it is you want to add to your routine. Weights, or swimming, or yoga, do each have a learning curve. When you find the right instruction and choose the time and place that offer the least obstacles, it gets easier with each repetition.

I realize while writing this that I still have to overcome certain obstacles. My best time to exercise is morning if you ask my body. Getting to the pool requires packing the bag, driving to and from, and hoping there’s a lane. My mind needs to be working on projects while it’s most alert in the morning. That resistance is there too. Working toward new habits even that you want to implement will always require you overcome a little internal resistance. Plan for it.

You’ve got this.


de Bruin, M, Sheeran, P, Kok, G, Hiemstra, A, Prins, JM, and Hospers, HJ. Self-regulatory processes mediate the intention behavior relation for adherence and exercise behaviors. Health Psychology 1(6): 695-703, 2012.
Orbell, S, and Verplanken, B. The automatic component of habit in health behavior: Habit as cue-contingent automaticity. Health Psychology 29(4): 374-383, 2010.
Wansink, B. From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better. Physiology and Behavior 100(5): 454-463, 2010.
Wood, W, Tam, L, and Witt, MG. Changing circumstances, disrupting habits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88(6): 918-933, 2005.
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