“Enthusiasm is the electricity of life. How do you get it? You act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.” – Gordon park
We all know that good habits lead to a better, healthier and more productive life.
Recurrence and persistence are the keys to achieve more things and to grow.
We all have habits; Good ones – They are helping us to get structured and reach our goals: Bad ones – They can negatively impact our lives much more than we realise…
It’s hard to get rid of a bad habit. Hard to give-up smoking, hard to give-up junk food, hard to give up watching TV etc… they are plenty of bad habits… The question is:
If it’s that hard to get rid of habits, why don’t we create habits that benefit our success on every aspects ?
So, how habits work and how to settle good habits and get rid of bad habit easily ?
A bit of background first
The Habit Loop
The Habit Loop is a neurological loop that governs any habit. It consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward.
Understanding these elements can help in understanding how to change bad habits or form good ones.
Let’s have a look at what it means..
The cue for a habit can be anything that triggers the habit. Cues most generally fall under the following categories:
- a location,
- a time of day,
- other people,
- an emotional state, or
- an immediately preceding action.
For example, every day at 2:30pm, someone could crave chocolate from the vending machine in the other building, or the smell from the coffee house downstairs compels someone to get a latte. As another example, the music from roving ice cream trucks is a very powerful cue. The cue tells the brain to go into automatic processing mode, and it takes effort to resist the cue, versus deriving satisfaction from following the cue.
A habit’s routine is the most obvious element: it’s the behavior you wish to change (e.g. smoking a cigarette or biting your nails) or reinforce (e.g. taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or drinking water instead of snacking).
The reward is the reason the brain decides the previous steps are worth remembering for the future.
It provides positive reinforcement for the desired behaviour, making it more likely that you will produce that behaviour again in the future. The reward can be anything, from something tangible (e.g. chocolate), something intangible (e.g. a half hour of television) to something with no inherent value but what it is given (e.g. tokens).
How to Hack the Habit Loop ?
Because the habit loop governs many of the automatic responses to stimuli, hacking the habit loop can be the means to overcoming bad habits.
In the best seller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change, Charles Duhigg suggests the following framework for reshaping bad habits:
- Identify the routine
Most habits have a routine that’s pretty easy to identify: it’s the behaviour you wish to change. Duhigg describes his own habit of going to the cafeteria in the afternoon and getting a chocolate chip cookie then sitting down with friends to chat. From there, he had to identify the cue and the reward.
- Experiment with reward
The reward for a given habit isn’t always as obvious as you might think. While the reward for a daily craving for chocolate could be just the chocolate, it could also be the resulting social interaction with the folks next to the vending machine or an energy boost from the calories (which could be replaced with an apple or some coffee).
Experimenting with rewards is the time-consuming part of hacking your habits.
Every time you feel the urge to repeat your routine, try changing the routine, the reward, or both. Keep track of your changes, and test different theories on what drives your routine. In Duhigg’s case, did he want the cookie or just want a walk? Was he hungry or was he just seeking social interaction? Each time you try a different routine, ask yourself after 15 minutes if you’re still craving the original “reward”. Duhigg discovered his craving went away after just chatting with friends–he really craved socialization, and he isolated that craving by experimenting with the rewards.
- Isolate the cue
With the wealth of stimuli bombarding you each day, isolating a habit’s cue is a difficult proposition. Experiments have shown that habitual cues generally fall into one of the five aforementioned categories; to whittle down what could be triggering your habit, write down answers to the following questions to see what patterns emerge when an urge or craving strikes you:
> Where are you?
> What time is it?
> What’s your emotional state?
> Who else is around?
> What action immediately preceded the urge?
- Have a plan
When Duhigg finished his study of his chocolate cookie habit, he discovered that his cue was the time of roughly 3:30pm, his routine was to go to the cafeteria, buy a cookie, and chat with friends. The reward, he discovered, was not the cookie itself, but the opportunity to socialize. Thus, he created this plan for working around his habit: At 3:30, every day, I will walk to a friend’s desk and talk for 10 minutes. He then set an alarm on his watch for 3:30.
While implementing the plan had its hiccups, after a few weeks of paying careful attention to his new routine, he now does it unconsciously, as a habit. Just one that’s better for him.
How to keep track of your habits ?
It’s like every 1st of January… long list of resolutions..
‘I’ll do this, I’ll start that etc..’ however, the initial motivation and excitment is quickly blown away after a couple of weeks and finally, nothing has changed !
A way to keep track of the habits and remain motivated is to be able to track them on a daily basis. What is better than an App to keep track of this easily and wherever you are ?
HabitBull – Motivations and reminders for daily routines and goals
“Easily break bad habits like smoking, drinking or nail biting, or build positive habits like fitness, meditation or reading”
The interface is great and easy to use and understand.
Habits are tracked and progresses are displayed under calendar form to keep being motivated ! Once habits are settle, it requires 10 seconds a day to check the habits status.
This application can be also used to track all your goals by including all the things you want to do on a daily, weekly basis like: Taking your daily vitamin, going to a Yoga class once a week, writing article every 3 days, buy apple on sunday for the coming week etc…
You can then track a mix of habits and goals recurring todo list !
Tips: When you have free time, or few minutes to kill, open the app and do the very small habits you defined. It will be much more rewarding that spending this time on Facebook and Instagram !
Think about what your bad habits are. Are they going against your goals ? If yes, now you know how to change and you need to change NOW !
Thanks a lot for reading and let me know what you feel about this in the comments !