Every year most of us ironically make a habit of setting ourselves up for failure. We all decide to make positive changes to our lives, to “exercise more, eat healthier, and spend more time with our family.” We want to change many things about ourselves, and we set out to try with the best of intentions. The reason we always seem to fail? We fall back into our “bad habits” and our “old routines.” So how do we finally make a change? Dig a little deeper and figure out your why. Why do you need to make a specific change, and what habits have you built up that led you to this point?
To figure out how to change our habits, we must first understand the basics of habit.
- Trigger/Cue. Something that initiates you to do the routine. For example, smokers who ‘instinctively’ light up a cigarette when they get to a bar.
- Routine/Behavior. Once triggered, this is the series of actions you do. For example, sitting at the bar has triggered your ‘smoking routine’, leading you to pull out a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and light up, all without consciously thinking about it.
- Payoff/Reward. The positive reinforcement after the routine is complete, which reinforces the underlying habit. For example, the slight buzz once you have smoked the cigarette.
There are a few steps to take to modify the habit.
- Identify the cue/trigger. It is important to figure out what triggers your habit. Knowing that is powerful. For example, if you intend to quit smoking, avoiding the bar will not change your trigger. Going to the bar, especially when your motivation to quit smoking is high, and intentionally associating the trigger with a new routine, like chewing gum, will alter the habit.
- Alter the routine. Once the routine is understood, the next step is to decide what you will replace in the routine. In our example with cigarette smoking, once you are at the bar, understanding the impulse/craving to grab a cigarette is the first step. Now once the impulse comes, consciously grab a pack of gum.
- Develop a different reward/payoff. There must be some positive reward for the routine to stick. In the case of replacing cigarettes with gum, make sure the gum is your favorite flavor, or make sure it has sugar in it so you feel some physiologic reward.
If you’re interested in learning more about habits and how to modify them, read these books:
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Tiny Habits by James Clear
Over the coming months, we will explore six great goals, analyze the habits we have built, and learn how to modify them. The key is to set a realistic goal, figure out your underlying habits and adjust them. In the end, you are in total control of your life and choices. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter to be the first to know when these blogs are published.
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Published by Dr. Zaid Fadul