Disrupting Habits


The Secret Formula

Everyone wants to hear that there’s a secret formula to quit a habit. That there’s a magic drug that will immediately stop it from playing out. Maybe a cream to apply, tool to buy, or series of turns and head pats that will make that horrible habit disappear.

Sometimes 2+2=4 and other times 2+2=846.

Even with all of the science behind habits there isn’t one way to succeed, there are literally millions. Giving up cigarettes is different from curbing your appetite, which is different from how you communicate with your spouse or how you prioritize tasks at work. Ultimately, it’s up to you to work towards changing behavior that impacts the rest of your life. You have to make the decision to focus on being mindful of your actions to see cues so that you can change your routine. But now with a framework for habits, you can start to play with the parts. You can experiment with all the combinations until you find the thing that works for you.

Change is a process that never truly ends, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Bree Pear

Checkpoint

By now, you should have identified the keystone habits in your life that you want to change. Below are a few ways you can work on changing the ones you’ve identified!

1. Isolate the cue

The reason why it’s so hard to identify the cues that trigger our habits is because there’s too much information bombarding us as the behaviors unfold. We need to remain mindful of our actions and feelings in order to make a change.

Example

Where are you? At my house
What time is it? After work
What’s your emotional state? Tired/bored
Who else is around? Nobody
What action preceded the urge? Turning on Netflix and sitting there the rest of the night

Work it out

Where are you? At my house
What time is it? After work
What are you feeling? Tired/bored
Who else is around? Nobody
What action comes next? Turning on Netflix and sitting there the rest of the night

Repeat this for a few days with one habit in mind—your answers may differ a little from day to day. This will help you diagnose your habit and how to change it. Three days in, it should become pretty clear to you which cue is triggering your habit.

2. Experiment with rewards

Rewards are powerful because they satisfy cravings we have to accomplish more in life. But rewards can be tricky because once you’re under their sway, it’s hard to think back to the cue that happened that got you there.

Example

Instead of satisfying my sweet tooth with something healthy, I decided to eat an entire cake. Next time I have a sweet tooth, maybe I could supplement a protein shake and then after do some stretching. I’m replacing the reward of something sweet with a habit that will positively impact my life and body.

Try it out

To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards. This might take a few days, or a week or longer. During that period you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change. Think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage. On the first day of your experiment adjust your routine so it delivers a different reward.

As you test four or five rewards you can start to look for patterns. After each activity jot down on a piece of paper the first three things that come to mind when you test the hypothesis. They can be emotions, random thoughts, reflections on how you’re feeling or just the first three words that pop into your head.

4. Have a plan

You need to have a plan. A habit is a choice that we deliberately make at some point and then stop thinking about but continue doing often every day. Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows. When I see cue, I will do XX routine in order to get the reward.

You’ve identified the cue triggering the routine and the reward driving your behavior. Now you can begin to shift the behavior by knowing what to be aware of and look out for in your daily activities. When you know that cue will be present, you can prepare a new (healthier) routine to replace the negative one with.

To reengineer that formula we need to begin make new choices and the easiest way to do this, according to countless studies, is to have a plan. Like I said, this isn’t all going to happen overnight, but you will get there if you’re intentionally and consistently working at it!

A few things that helped me

  1. Set an intention and say it out loud each day
  2. Become more mindful of the cues in your environment that trigger negative physical, mental, or emotional responses
  3. Figure out rewards that give you a sense of accomplishment
  4. Keep at it and stay patient

Extra Credit

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This book was one that shifted the entire way I viewed habits and set the stage for how I started to experiment with changing them. You don’t have to, but if you want to dive in, I’ll be posting about topics from this book from time to time and would love to have you as part of the conversation!

Buy the book

Connect with your humans

There’s not a single human on this planet that doesn’t have habits. As you’re learning about your habits and how to change the cycle, hop over to our Facebook Group and share about it all.

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