When people talk of habits it’s usually in the context of “I have a a habit of…” and generally speaking, we assume that what we do repeatedly, becomes a habit.
In this COVID-19 world my behaviour had changed significantly, prompting me to do some research.
Turns out repetition is not needed for a habit to be formed. There are three specific area’s in each habit and once you have them figured out they are relatively easy to hijack.
The human brain uses an enormous amount of energy for processes so it uses ‘shortcuts’ to help it to be efficient. Efficient might sound good, but the brain is unable to make the distinction between a good and a bad habit.
These shortcuts are what we call habits.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “I’ve got to kick this habit”, or “You have to get out of the habit of…”, well you can cut yourself some slack.
Truth is, a habit cannot be eradicated.
There’s no need to despair, because habits are actually easy to hijack, but it does take work.
A habit is made of three parts:
The cue cannot be changed.
Some people call this ‘The Trigger’ but I’m not a fan of that word. This is what prompts the brain to use it’s shortcut.
They can be quite obscure so the trick is to monitor what you’re doing right before you do whatever it is you don’t want to do.
Once you’ve identified your cue, you can get to work
The routine is how you respond to the cue.
This is what you do in the place of the behaviour you want to change. I have to stress that this is entirely possible but takes a lot of work.
A new habit can take sixty six days to embed.
A habit is formalised with a reward!
To have identified the cue, and modified the behaviour that follows is not enough; a pleasureable sensation has to follow to embed the amendment, making it become the new version of the habit.
This requires you to actively celebrate your new action to the cue.
I’ve used playing with my dogs, watching a video on YouTube and even telling friends that I’m proud of myself for not snacking (getting a “Well Done” from them in the process) as rewards.
I have one last pro tip for modifying habits.
Going miscroscopic on your behaviours will help you to keep going, because the changes are so tiny you won’t easily be able to justify not making them.
I had developed a habit of eating a muffin whenever I came back from walking the dogs. I would get back to the house, give the dogs a treat and treat myself.
I replaced the muffin with a glass of water, and made a big deal of fussing with my dogs (dogs and humans making eye contact releases dopamine, which is what makes us feel happy) and, after just a few days I had hijacked the habit!
As you modify your behaviour it is vital that you are kind to yourself, and give yourself a break.
Studies have shown that rewards have a restorative effect on our willpower, so going small and celebrating those wins is going to be more helpful to help you hijack your habits than cold, hard discipline