When we first unveiled Stop. Challenge. Choose.™, the idea was simple. We wanted to distill the mindfulness process down to something that was easy to remember and easy to apply. Mindfulness, for as powerful as it can be, can sometimes feel intimidating because the scientific research on its impact is dense, and the books on mindfulness are thick.
But really, it comes down to Stop. Challenge. Choose. That’s it. Three words for three steps.
Our Brains and the Power of Habits
The majority of our daily choices are automatic. Our routines are forged into habits that put us on autopilot. We don’t think about the process of brushing our teeth or tying our shoes because we have done these tasks so many times in our lives. Our brains are wired to recognize these habits and to use them to free our minds for higher order tasks.
For our Stone Age ancestors, that meant being able to run the path back home with relatively little brain power, diverting the majority of the brain’s attention to scanning the environment for food and for threats. For us today, that means arriving at a destination without remembering the drive or finding ourselves meandering to the refrigerator yet again for a snack because we’re bored.
Mindfulness empowers us to recognize these automatic behaviors so that we can make new choices. Over time, those new choices become habits, replacing our Habits of Disease with Habits of Health.
You can download a full e-book on Stop. Challenge. Choose. for free to get the in-depth explanation of how and why this works, but in short, we recognize that a certain stimulus (a cue) triggers an automatic behavior (a routine), and that behavior is reinforced by the outcome (a reward). When that loop is repeated often enough (66 times, on average), the behavior becomes a habit.
The Stop. Challenge. Choose. Process
Here’s the exciting part: We can use habit loops to reprogram our behaviors, swapping bad habits for healthy habits.That same automatic programming that makes us mindlessly eat potato chips at the kitchen counter can be used to make us automatically put our running shoes on in the morning or to have us crave a glass of water over a glass of soda.
And it starts with Stop. Challenge. Choose.
The first step is to recognize that you are about to make an unhealthy choice. If you find that you struggle to recognize these moments as they happen, journal about them after the fact and write down how you will respond differently in the future. It’s okay for this to take practice!
Interrupting the habit loop makes you mindful again, opening the door for you to make the decision that matches your health goals. If your boss sending you a nasty email makes you reach for a candy bar, you could instead choose to go for a walk. Both are a response to a cue, but you need that moment of awareness and clarity to challenge the choice you usually make.
In this step, you make the healthier choice, but the trick here is to make the healthy choice as rewarding as the unhealthy choice. For our mean boss example, eating a candy bar and going for a walk both have the same potential reward, and that’s stress relief. With practice, you can make the healthy choice even more gratifying than the unhealthy choice. That walk is a chance to not only clear your mind but to enjoy the fresh air, see some nature, and to congratulate yourself on your victory.
How to Get Started
The beauty of Stop. Challenge. Choose. is that you can start using it this very second. The process is not complicated, but since you are working against habits that you may have forged over decades, giving yourself room to grow and learn is essential. Some habit loops will be harder to break than others. You won’t always make the healthy choice. You may struggle significantly at some points as well.
That’s okay. Even if you mess up, reflect on what happened and learn from it so that you can do better the next time, and don’t be afraid to talk to your health coach for extra guidance and support. If you’d like to learn more about Stop. Challenge. Choose., turn to page 133 in Dr. A’s Habits of Health.
I can’t wait to hear your success stories!