• Emily

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie - And Other Habit Building

There are advanced behavioral psychology principles in the book If you Give a Mouse a Cookie.


If you don't remember the children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, here are the first few lines.


"If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he'll probably ask you for a straw. When he's finished, he'll ask you for a napkin."


This demonstrates a concept known by many names - habit coupling, habit stacking, habit building etc. It is the idea that one behavior can create a cue or craving for another habit. It can be used negatively or positively.


The negative version looks like this, "If I skip the gym, I will sit on the couch instead. When I sit on the couch, I will want to get chips to snack on. When I eat the chips I will want a soda or a beer."


However, there is a positive version too! Here's what that sounds like, "If I wake up early I will have time to practice yoga. When I practice yoga I drink more water during the day. When I hydrate properly I can better control my hunger."


Think about examples of this in your own life, whether they have to do with health or not.


Some may be obvious like brushing your teeth after you finish eating. But what about the more subtle things? Like, When I bring my workout clothes with me, I will go to the gym after work.


Are there things you could do to manipulate your environment which results in a successful habit stack?


You can better organize this thinking by making a list of your habits from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed. Then, identify where you could add healthier habits and attach them to existing ones.


The more specific you can make these items, the better! Add in a time, place, and duration to each of your habits. Something like this:


- At 8 o'clock I will walk my dog for 15 minutes around the neighborhood

- When I return from walking my dog, I will eat a piece of fruit in the kitchen


Give it a try and see what you can come up with. Changing and building habits isn't easy but it's effective. You can achieve your goals by creating effective, healthy habits and removing unhealthy ones. Using the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie technique is just one of many ways to build sustainable changes and improve health.


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