“Habit before the habit” (Hh) is a methodology established by our partners over at BeeZee Bodies, a weight management and behaviour change company.
It encourages people to “run the experiment” of having new healthy habits — and to keep going until they have replaced the old ones.
Why is this important?
Hh is the result of more than a decade of on-the-ground delivery, primary research and academic evidence. It pulls together key elements of behaviour change from the fields of psychology, behavioural economics and sociology.
There is a wealth of evidence underpinning Hh, but it can be boiled down into three simple principles. We’ll explore these principles in this article — and explain how they can help your patients develop a healthier lifestyle.
People are not as rational as they think
People are often influenced by the way choices are presented to them, by what other people are doing, by what they’ve done before and by other situational or environmental cues.
Over the past 40 years, behavioural economics experiments have emphatically demonstrated the predictability of people’s irrational choices.
“What the hell” effect
Because lots of your patients will expect to achieve their rational goals, it can come as a surprise when they fail.
For instance, if your patient sets a goal of not eating cake, but then everyone around them is eating cake, they might be tempted to eat a mouthful, then maybe half. And then they might think: “I can’t just leave half a cake sat there, can I?”
Patients often then compromise their goals further and this can be the start of the “what the hell” effect.
You may have seen your patients experience this, often telling themselves they’ll start again tomorrow. But then tomorrow might start badly, and it can be the end of the road for that attempt to change habits.
We all have a “planning self” and a “doing self”
Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize-winning behavioural economist who suggested that there are two selves, or two systems, for decision making*.
The first system is the “experiencing self” or “doing self”. This is when your patient makes decisions in the moment, based on the information in front of them. Very often they are acting instinctively, while subject to all the environmental, social and structural influences around them.
The second system is the “remembering self” or “planning self”. Your patient makes plans which they are adamant they’ll stick to. However, it’s human nature to underestimate the things which might throw them off course and prevent them from reaching their goals.
An example is planning to exercise early in the morning. The alarm is set for 5am and your patient is sure they’ll wake up enthusiastic and ready to go.
But 5am rolls around and the last thing they want to do is jump out of their warm bed, find their kit and exercise. “Snooze” is a much easier and more appealing option in that moment.
Running the experiment
To combat these three phenomena, we use Hh by “running the experiment”. It’s not easy, but it is simple — and it can be the difference between giving up and making lasting change.
How does it work?
Encourage your patient to plan for the parts of the experiment which might not work by thinking through and identifying the potential risks, and where they might go wrong. How can they fix these risks?
For example, they want to exercise early but don’t have their kit prepared. They could set-out their kit the night before, ready for the morning?
It’s important for your patient to understand that some things might work, but some definitely won’t. This is the nature of experiment — and it prepares them for the fact they’ll need to try again.
This helps alleviate pressure. The first time they try to change their habit won’t be perfect. They might go wrong, and that’s ok.
This leads us nicely to experimenting, which is all part of the process. Experiment, fail, learn, repeat.
Your patient can run the experiment and gradually move toward a successful outcome.
Over time, they’ll find methods which work for them and help them achieve their habits. These small changes in lifestyle can lead to making a big difference.
Here at Be Healthy Bucks, we understand the challenges of habit making. We’re here to help support your patients achieve their health goals.
We just need a few minutes of your time to help us get started.