Beating Bad Habits

Photo by Erik Odiin on Unsplash

Are you stuck with something you do regularly that bothers you? Have you given up on change, and just accepted it? I would challenge you to think again.

What you have cultivated is a habit. A habit is a behavior you have repeated so many times that your body can now do it better than your mind. Conclusively, you run the behavior automatically without thinking about it.

“All of our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” -William James

Scientists have proven, that as much as 92% of our daily activities are habitual by the age of 30. This makes sense- would you want to relearn how to tie your shoes every morning? But as powerful as habits are, and as much as they dictate your life, is any habit set in stone?

The answer is simple- no. No habit is permanent. As such any habit can be changed. Just like an alcoholic can stop drinking, and a smoker can stop smoking, you can condition yourself out of your bad habit.

How are habits created? In his book The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg explains how any habit is created. It all starts with what he calls the “habit loop”. It consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. Let’s define the terms really quickly:

The cue

The cue represents the trigger that tells the brain to go on autopilot.

The routine

After the cue an automated action/activity takes place. It can be of physical, mental, or of emotional nature.

The reward

The reward makes sure, that the loop is worth remembering. It is the specific neuro-chemical state we are after while carrying out a habit.

How can you change your bad habits? Most people try to change the habit by immediately changing the routine. But did you notice something? Every habit is created because you are after a reward. It is so easy to just start randomly substitute routines. But routines that do not fulfill the reward your brain is after simply won’t stick.

Say the routine you are trying to change is going to the hotdog stand during your lunch break. What is the reward? Why do you go there? Is it satiation, or do you enjoy the fresh air?

If you are trying to still your hunger, you might want to take a home cooked lunch with you. If you enjoy the fresh air- take a walk around the block instead. The more you tailor a substituting routine to the reward in the loop, the higher your chance of success.

I challenge you- choose a bad habit that you have been wanting to change for a long time. Dissect it. Find the hidden reward, and start experimenting with different routines that meet the same need. Once you find a routine that works, stick to it. You will be surprised by the level of success you can obtain.