Habits versus behaviour: know the difference

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If you’ve been following us, you’ll know that our programs are grounded in changing habits, rather than focusing on food and exercise. You can read more about the foundation of our program in our blog The long-term weight loss pyramid.

You see, the problem with programs sold by the diet and weight loss industry is that they focus on using willpower to modify behaviours to lose weight, rather than addressing the reasons people engage in these behaviours — which are due to habits.

Knowing the difference between behaviours and habits is crucial for long-term weight loss because success comes only when you focus on addressing why you do certain things (your habits), instead of trying to change what you do (your behaviours). We explain this in more detail in our blog The solution to your bodyweight problem is not in addressing what you do, but why you do it.

What are behaviours?

Behaviours are the things we do, think and say, and the way we act. They are conscious reactions to our environment and are usually triggered by our beliefs and our identity, and guided by our values. In other words, what we believe about ourselves, the world, the situation we find ourselves in, and what we feel is the appropriate way to react, all influence our behaviours. Behaviours are also a reflection of our habits.

What are habits?

Habits are patterns of behaviour that we engage in automatically without any conscious thought at all. Habits can be actions, thoughts, beliefs, fears and mindsets. Habits develop over time and are unconscious routines of behaviour that are designed to help our brain save energy. 

A good example of a habit is learning to drive a car and back it out of the driveway. In the beginning, you need to be very conscious of what you are doing, which takes focus and energy. However, as you repeat the same behaviour, your brain ‘chunks’ information for you, so you can eventually do this complex action without thinking about it. Other examples of daily habits are cleaning your teeth or having coffee with breakfast. In order to ‘help’ us and save energy, our brain develops lots of habits, regardless of whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us.

How do habits form?

Habits form with repetition, and they work on a 3-step process called the habit loop.

Every habit we have starts with a cue or trigger.

Once we experience the trigger, we go on automatic pilot and engage in a behaviour or thought process. This is called the routine.

Our routine provides us with a reward which is what keeps us engaging in that habit over and over again. As long as there is a reward of some kind for us, we’ll continue to do this habit even if it’s destructive.

Why are habits important?

Around 45% of our daily lives are driven by habits. That means almost half of our life is on autopilot. The single biggest influence on our weight is our habits because they influence most of what we do. Even if we have the best intentions to lose weight, and use lots of willpower and motivation to address the behaviours we know sabotage our efforts, our habits will always get the better of us. 

Habits also have a domino effect which means that one habit can snowball into other habits. A good example of this is having a bad day at work which causes stress. An automatic response to soothing stress may be to binge eat and drink alcohol. This then leads you to feel bad about yourself, so you engage in emotional eating to feel better. Eating all this food then leads to a bad night’s sleep which means you skip your workout the next morning.

 

On the other hand, if you have a habit of doing weekly food prep, you feel organised for the week. This reduces stress, helps you relax and so you get a good night’s sleep. You’re able to get up, do your workout and have time to eat breakfast because it’s already prepared. This ensures you’re in a good mood when you go to work and you experience all these feel-good hormones all day, which means you’re able to handle the stress of your day, and therefore have no need to soothe your stress with binge eating when you get home.

Habits beat intentions every time because they are automatic unconscious patterns of behaviours. Therefore, if we have habits that contribute to weight gain, we are likely to struggle with our weight, no matter how hard we work at it. 

On the flip side, if we have habits that support weight loss, then there is no need to rely on motivation or willpower because weight loss will take care of itself.

Among other things, our habits determine:

Habits that make it hard to lose weight

People who struggle with their weight have at least one, but more likely a few, of the following habits:

To learn more about how these habits impact your life and your weight, click on the links above.

The difference between changing behaviours and changing habits 

Where most people go wrong with weight loss is they focus on trying to change their behaviours (what they do), instead of their habits (why they do what they do). To help you understand what we mean by this, let’s look at the most common problems people try to solve when they try to lose weight, and what it looks like to focus on changing behaviour versus changing habits.

Problem Changing behaviour Changing habits
Inconsistency with exercise Scheduling regular exercise sessions and then using willpower to stick to the schedule Looking at why you are inconsistent with exercise (e.g. getting to bed too late and being too tired to get up for a workout)

Solution: address the habits that stop you from going to bed (e.g. working long hours to keep your boss happy – people pleasing)

Not eating well Focusing on food and cutting back on calories Look at why you don’t eat well (e.g. because you don’t have time)

Solution: work on the habit that causes you to be too busy (e.g. doing things for other people – not being able to put yourself first)

Drinking ‘too much’ Going alcohol-free Looking at why you rely on alcohol and addressing this (e.g. to relieve stress)

Solution: work on the problems that are causing you stress (e.g. trying to be perfect in everything you do – perfectionism)

How to change your habits

We all have habits that don’t serve us well. Some of these habits show up in the form of poor mental health, some as relationship problems, some as business problems, parenting problems and some as weight problems.

The solution to solving your problems lies not in trying to change your behaviour, but in changing your habits. To do this, you first need to be aware of the habits that are holding you back. You can read more about self-awareness in our blog Why you’ll never lose weight without self-awareness.

Once you are aware of your habits, and what triggers them, the key to changing them is to change the routine. We explain this in more detail and provide examples in our blog How to break your bad habits.

How DATSTM Program helps 

The DATSTM Personal Coaching Program (habit, mindset and weight loss) helps you identify the habits and their triggers, that are contributing to your weight problem. By working with the world’s leading personal coaches in habit and mindset change, you will be given the specific action steps you need to take to change your routine and then change your habits. With DATSTM, there is no need to use willpower or motivation to stick to your plan. We give you the knowledge, systems, tools and skills so you can continue to increase your awareness of your habits, and change them to ones that will support long-term weight loss. 

The DATSTM Program will help you lose weight for good and gain the body, confidence and lifestyle you want. And our system means you’ll be able to stay consistent, even on your worst days.

In summary…

  • When people try to lose weight they focus on changing their behaviours using willpower and motivation, which fades over time.
  • Behaviours are conscious reactions to our environment and are reflections of our habits.
  • To make lasting change, you need to change your habits.
  • Habits are unconscious, automatic patterns of behaviour and can be actions, thoughts, beliefs, fears and mindsets.
  • Almost half of our life is run by our habits, so you can either have habits that lead to weight gain, or habits that support long-term weight loss.
  • Developing the right habits mean that weight loss will take care of itself. There is no need to rely on willpower and motivation to change your behaviour.
  • Our DATSTM Personal Coaching Program will help you identify and address the habits that have caused you to become overweight.
  • It will give you the precise action steps you need to take to change your habit routine, so you can develop lifelong habits that will support permanent weight loss.
  • Our DATSTM Program gives you the knowledge, systems, tools and skills to help you lose weight and keep it off, even on your worst days.

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