The Power of Habit
The little things we do without thinking, and how to change them for the better
Every morning you get out of bed and probably go about a routine that you have set on automatic.
These little actions are done by rote and without any conscious thought - in other words, they've become habits.
Perhaps you get up, get dressed, lace your shoes and go for a run.
Maybe you grab your water and yoga mat and head off to your studio.
Did you brush your teeth or use mouthwash before you left the house? How about your hair? Do you shower before you leave, or did you take a shower the night before?
If you did any one of these things and didn't think about it before hand, that's the power of habit.
Every time you catch yourself checking your Facebook or other social media without thinking about it first, that's the power our habits can take on us.
So, if our unconscious actions can dictate our behavior, what then, does it take to change our actions to take on the desired effect?
For example, imagine you have a new goal you want to accomplish. With summer coming around soon, maybe it's to lose a couple of pounds or get in better cardiovascular shape to be more active this year.
Don't pretend that losing a couple of pounds to look and feel better outdoors isn't on your radar. Most of us have a social pull to fit in, to feel better, to look our best, and losing a couple of pounds can have a profound effect on our self-esteem.
Besides, I need the analogy for my argument.
So how do you create better habits in a safe, constructive way?
Understand the 3 Step Process of the Habit Loop to Build Better Habits
It takes decisive action with attention to the small details that will make lasting change.
In Charles Duhigg's seminal book on habits, he discusses how the power of habit dictates our actions and influences our outcomes.
Citing research, Duhigg claims there is a process of three steps that form a loop in our behavior.
1) The first is the cue - what are the shortcuts you need to get more done, more easily?
2) The second is the trigger - what causes you to act?
3) The third is the reward - what do you get in return for the action?
This loop of cue, trigger, reward is the basis for building a habit. And remember, a habit can be an automatic action that is good, or one that is not.
Over time, this anticipation can develop into a craving for the reward and result in action that is beyond our conscious control.
Think about checking your email.
The cue is that when you open up your computer or smartphone, your inbox automatically updates all of your new emails. It may "ding" or pop-up a notification that you have a new email.
The trigger is the desire to know who emailed you, what about, and how important is it.
Finally then the reward is opening your email inbox and reading an email.
Research indicates that this process is one that tickles the same part of our brains like cocaine - it's exhilarating and releases significant amounts of dopamine, the chemical for pleasure in our brains, and it's why we get a slight thrill every time we open up our inboxes. We begin to anticipate the happiness that we get from the reward. It's this phase that reinforces the habit loop (more on this phase below).
The anticipation of seeing a new email is a similar experience to expecting the rush from amphetamine. It also helps explain why social media platforms like Facebook are so popular and addicting.
So how do we change negative behaviors and create ones that we want?
Unlock Your Potential While Breaking Old Habits
Because as we develop habits, our brain creates patterns that it relies on as a shortcut to save time and energy. So, in effect, the old habits and patterns never disappear, which helps explain why it's so easy to slip back into the negative habits we were trying to change in the first place.
How then do we rid ourselves of negative habits? The sad part is that we can't.
So the trick then is to refocus the brain on what part of the habit loop needs to change and be modified.
In other words, you need to create a new habit loop, one that is built around the actions we want over those we don't.
The primary factor, however, is in developing a craving for a new reward.
The craving for a reward is what drives our actions, and if unsatiated, will continue to build on an unconscious action - how the scent of food can make you crave that item, even if you just ate.
If you are trying to build an exercise habit, the key is to set a cue such as putting on your shoes first thing in the morning, and then after a run, have a reward set up.
As you develop these conscious acts, by reinforcing the rewards, you begin to create the anticipation of reward.
That anticipation creates a craving for the next reward, and once a craving is established, the roots of habit spread and become unconscious, leading to new habit formation.
So reward yourself to create a new habit. Eat that chocolate, drink that beer, sit on your duff and watch T.V.
If you really want to make a difference in your habits, it's that simple. But only if you operate within a habit loop.
Otherwise you're rewarding nonsense.
If you'd like to read Charles Duhigg's awesome book, click on the picture below. I do get a small referral fee for each sale, just FYI.