Losing weight can often feel like an overwhelming task, but what if there was a simple and effective weight loss hack that could transform your journey? The key lies in harnessing the power of habits.
The success of James Clear’s book Atomic Habits has increased public interest in habit formation, but how can we take the science of habits and translate it into sustainable health change?
By following these five simple steps, you can tap into the power of habits and automate healthy choices.
Step 1: Shift the focus from what to who — “Who do I wish to become?”
We have been programmed to focus on the ‘what’. What should I weigh? What clothes size should I be?
The first step in harnessing the power of habits is to instead switch your focus to the “who” and envision the person you want to become. Reflect on your weight loss goals and the lifestyle you desire.
What does this look like? What does this feel like?
Do you keep up with and play with your kids rather than sit on the sidelines? Do you nourish rather than punish when it comes to food? Do you get into your swimmers for a fun day at the beach or do you hide under your towel and watch from a distance?
“It’s hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behaviour. You have a new goal and a new plan but you haven’t changed who you are.” — James Clear
Step 2: Step Into the Shoes of the Person You Wish to Become.
Once you have a clear vision of your desired self, it’s time to identify the habits that this person would have. Does this version of yourself exercise regularly? Do you plan your meals ahead of time? How much sleep do you get? What stress management strategies and self-care do you implement? Make a list of these habits to serve as a blueprint for your transformation.
Step 3: Break Your Blueprint into Micro Steps.
It is now a case of ‘fake it til you make it’ by starting to emulate the habits of the person you wish to become. But first, it is essential to break the habits down into small, manageable steps. These are known as micro habits.
This is arguably one of the most important steps as this is often where we go wrong. When it comes to health and weight loss, we are big fans of grand gestures. Going from no exercise to attending the gym 5 days a week and ditching Uber Eats in favour of green smoothies. More often than not, going from zero to hero generally lands us back right where we started within weeks.
The key to consistency (which is the key to results) is to start small and build. When it comes to formulating micro habits, how small is small enough? In a nutshell, you want it to be so small that it makes it difficult to say no.
Was one of your habits to drink more water? Start by adding one glass of water at breakfast. Want to be more active? Instead of aiming to run a marathon, start with a five-minute walk around the block.
By making the steps incredibly achievable, you build momentum and create a positive cycle of success. The sheer act of establishing the habit is the hard part. It is easier to dial up the intensity or the difficulty of the habit once the habit is in place. You are then more likely to achieve sustainability and consistency which is what will give you the outcomes you desire.
Step 4: Anchor Your Micro Habits
Attach your micro-habits to specific events or anchors in your daily routine to ensure consistency. These events or anchors will act as the cue or trigger for your desired habit. To do this, use the formula “When I… I will…” to link the desired micro habit with an existing activity. For example, “When I eat my breakfast, I will include a serving of fruit.”
Step 5: Rinse and Repeat.Research has shown that working on 1–3 micro habits is the optimum amount. So rather than creating a giant to-do list, choose 1–3 micro habits from your list to start working on. Remember, it’s better to start small and succeed than to take on too much and feel discouraged.
Practice these chosen micro habits consistently to solidify them as part of your routine. Self-monitoring is an important part of this process as it allows you to monitor your consistency and self-correct as you go. A basic tick sheet, star chart or habit tracker app will do the trick. Even as adults we have not outgrown the use of a ‘star chart’ and feel satisfaction when we see a green tick or get on a ‘streak’. These monitoring tools assist you in staying aware and focused.
As these micro habits become ingrained, i.e. you complete them without thinking about them, you can remove them from your tracker and introduce new ones from your list.
Before you know it, you will have incorporated several healthy changes into your daily routine.
How long does it take?Current research suggests that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit. The average is 66 days (If you see 21 days, this is based on one outdated study). As you would expect, simpler habits are formed quicker than more complex habits and the time frame can also be influenced by how habitual / structured you are as an individual.
The most important part is to make a start. By following these five simple steps, you can set yourself up for success. Start by envisioning your desired self, identify the habits aligned with that vision, break them down into tiny steps, attach micro-habits to your daily routine, and choose 1–3 habits to practice and repeat. Remember, progress is not about perfection but about consistent effort and commitment.
Meet Our Contributor — Annie Barry
Annie is an experienced accredited dietitian and habit coach who specialises in sustainable weight loss for women. Learn more about Annie’s work here. Instagram: @healthy.habits.dietitian.