force of habit: understanding what you do, why, and how to change

trying to kick a bad habit? you are what you repeatedly do.

I worked in education for over 15 years. During that time, I was often training for a race. No matter how dedicated I was to my training, though, I’d always fall prey to candy, cupcakes, or cookies. If a sugary treat appeared in the workroom (or teacher’s lounge), I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to shove it in my face. 

There was a distinct pattern that led me to seek sugar when I left my office. So what was I going to do—never leave my office? Wear horse blinders so I couldn’t see the candy?

My sweet tooth had become problematic for me, and I felt like I was motivated to change it, but I didn’t know where to start.

Every time I tried to ignore the candy or cupcake, my brain would kick the inside of my face repeatedly until I’d give in. But that brief movement of “satisfaction” was always followed by regret—I would feel so awful about breaking my streak of being candy-free (which usually never lasted more than one or two days, in case you were wondering).

Through this struggle, I learned that motivation isn’t the most effective way to create a new habit. Your memory and motivation are going to fail you every single time. I’m not saying that to be pessimistic, I am just being as real as possible with you. (If you haven’t read my blog on motivation, check it out here.)

Moral of the story: I was motivated to kick the habit, but it wasn;t enough. I needed to learn how to change my habits instead of working so hard to eliminate them.

3 components of habit change.

In “The Power of Habit,” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter DuHigg introduces the concept of the habit loop, which has three components:

  • The cue
    The cue is a reminder or trigger that initiates the behavior.


  • The routine
    The routine is the behavior or action you take when your brain is “cued.”


  • The reward
    The reward is the feeling of satisfaction from doing the behavior. (Hooray for dopamine!)


Every habit that we have follows this same loop.

Regardless of whether the habit is good or bad, the longer the habit has been in place, the more automatic it becomes.

the habit loop in action.

Let’s go back to my candy-eating habit to get a better understanding of how I changed it.

I had been falling on and off the candy wagon for years. My cravings were so powerful that I could not ignore them.

To kick the habit, I had to identify what was triggering my craving for candy. I became aware that I had a tendency to sit at my desk for long periods of time without taking a break—even to use the bathroom.

By the time I finally paused to take a break, my brain was exhausted.

I’d end up sleepily wandering down the hall into the workroom. I knew that the candy would give me a boost in energy. It didn’t matter that there would be a sugar crash later, which would lead to another trip seeking that sweet sugar high… and cavities… but that was the least of my concerns.

My trigger was “exhaustion.”

My routine was going to the workroom for a treat.

My reward was that momentary energy boost.

I knew that the candy was bad for me in so many ways, but how could I break my habit? I needed to work smarter. I started giving myself more frequent breaks so I wasn’t completely exhausted. I stopped going into the workroom where the inevitable sugary temptation lived.

More importantly, my brain needed a break to reboot before going back to work. So during my breaks, I’d take a walk around the building or step outside for a minute if a walk wasn’t feasible.

Five minutes was long enough for me to regain my energy. With the help of a little vitamin D, I could continue to be productive… and save my teeth.

To change your life, you’ve got to change your habits.

creating new habits.

In creating new habits—which I’ve done with so many things other than just eating candy—I had to determine my triggers.

Triggers can be a location, time of day, emotional state, and even the action of others. Here are some effective ways that I’ve worked with my own triggers that might work for you:

  1. Track your triggers in a journal so you can learn from them and make changes
  2. Keep a habit tracker for good and bad habits
  3. Try not to change all of your bad habits at the same time
  4. Pick one bad habit and conscientiously replace it with a new, good (or better) habit
  5. Understand that it typically latkes 66 days to form a new habit and up to 254 days for a habit to fully develop


My advice to you is to be patient and determined while working towards making a change.

If you need support on your fitness journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

I’d love to work with you on creating new healthier habits, on your journey towards becoming a better (candy free) YOU.

hugs + high-fives,


Virtual & In-person programs available!
Join US!
fys. blog.