How to Reassess your Habits

Updated. Post originally published on January 2, 2013.

It’s important to reassess your habits, especially when life gets busy or your normal schedule or routine gets thrown out of balance. Hello summertime!

Goals versus habits

Your daily habits are at the core of you achieving your goals. As an Ithaca Nutritionist, I’d like to encourage you to think about habits and goals a little differently. There are two main types of goals to focus on: outcome goals and process goals.

Outcome goals are things like “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 3 months” or “I want my bloating and IBS symptoms to go away by the end of August”. There is a clear outcome in mind and we know if we met the goal or not in the designated time frame. Clients typically meet with me for nutrition coaching because they want to achieve outcome goals.

One thing I do in my practice is to help clients re-frame outcome goals into process goals. You can do this too.

A process goal is something you can do each day to reach your outcome goal. The outcome you set is out of your control in many ways but process goals are things you can DO each day. You can check off whether you did them or not. These are daily habits that little by little help you to achieve your outcome goal.

Let’s take the example of “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 3 months” (outcome goal). What are 3 process goals you could set to reach this outcome? How about:

  • “When I have a craving for sweet or salty foods between meals, I will drink a glass of water and set a timer for 20 minutes.”
  • “I will stop eating and drinking by 8pm each day.” 
  • “I will eat all meals and snacks at a table (instead of on-the go, standing, or watching a screen).”

These process goals or daily habits are things you can do each day to achieve your goals (aka outcome goals). This is a pretty simple concept but it’s a powerful tool to shift your mindset. Especially, when things get really busy or your schedule is thrown off (ie. vacation, the kids are home for the summer, the holidays, etc.), keep your outcome goals in mind by just keeping up with your daily habits.

“Build small habits. Make big plans.

1) Keep your daily actions small. Strive to get 1% better every day.

2) Keep your daily mindset big. Think about how you can play a bigger game.

Start small, but never dream small.”

– James Clear, author of Atomic Habits

How to build healthy habits into each day

I’m eternally interested in habits and how to better support my clients to achieve their goals for their health and in turn, their lives.

The book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg was a fascinating and mildly entertaining read. If you’re interested in the neuroscience and psychology of habits, I’d highly recommend it. If you’d rather have the bottom line, here it goes. . .  it’s much easier to upgrade habits than it is to form new ones and habits CAN be reprogrammed (by forming new neural pathways in your brain)!

Every habit includes the following three parts:

  1. Cue
  2. Action
  3. Reward

Habits are much simpler to change if you keep the same cue and reward and simply change the action. Here are a few examples of upgrades to healthier habits:

man pouring water in glass

Cue         Action                                Reward

Thirst      Drink a Diet Coke             Quenched thirst

Thirst      Drink a glass of water     Quenched thirst

Bored      Mindless snacking           Physical stimulation

Bored      25 jumping jacks             Physical stimulation

Tired       Starbucks latte                More energy, less tired

Tired       5 minute brisk walk        More energy, less tired

If somewhere along the line you decided (consciously or subconsciously) that drinking a Diet Coke (or insert sweetened iced tea, kombucha, etc.) is the best way to quench your thirst and it became a habit, its going to be a lot easier to achieve an outcome goal like “quit drinking soda” if you use the same cue and get the same reward and simply replace drinking a Diet Coke with drinking a big glass of water or even some seltzer water with a squeeze of lime. Make sense?

Take a minute to reassess your habits

  • What is your outcome goal right now?
  • What are 1 to 3 process goals (aka daily habits) you could add in or begin again to help you achieve your outcome goal? When thinking about your habits or process goals, remember the cue-action-reward framework. Can you keep the same cue and reward and swap out the action?

Life is busy. The emails never end. The kids are home for summer. AND you CAN achieve your goals.

Leave a comment and let us know which process goals (aka daily habits) you’re going to focus on!

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Erin Harner

Erin Harner is an Integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), author, and speaker based in Ithaca, NY. Erin melds functional medicine and culinary nutrition to help her clients uncover their unique diet and confidently cook healthy nourishing meals that meet the needs of their whole family. Learn about Erin's services and connect on Instagram.

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