« A habit is a choice that we deliberately made at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continuously doing, often every day.” Charles Dunhigg, in the Power of Habit
How is the challenge going so far? After having shared the recipe for a successful habit change, let’s dig the science behind habit formation.
A habit is an action we do repeatedly and mindlessly. We have been doing it for such a long time that we do not really remember how it started at first place or very vaguely. However, understanding why and how we do what we do proves to be critical when it comes to implementing new and more useful routines in our lives. We often think that we know how our “bad” habits started. Yet, we do not manage to change them.
To help implementing the new habit, it is important to gain awareness of what caused the behaviour.
The habit loop
In The Power of Habit, Charles Dunhigg shows through different studies the process of habit formation that he calls habit loop and how understanding this process is useful to manage changing habits we consider “bad”.
The loop is composed of:
– the cue that triggers the routine / habit;
– the routine or the repeated behaviour;
– the reward that is the gratification coming as a consequence of the elements before;
– the anticipation for the reward generates a craving for the reward.
In this experiment, a monkey sees a pattern on a screen then pulls a lever that delivers blackberry juice. After several weeks of this experiment, the monkey would start salivating as soon as the pattern would appear on the screen and would get depressed or very angry when there was no juice. The monkey was craving for the juice.
What can we take away from this experiment?
- Repetition leads to expectation for the reward
- When the cue is associated with the reward, there is a craving
- Craving is a key element in the loop: the habit starts whenever there is a craving.
We all have felt disappointed after an expectation that was not met. It feels like a punishment.
Have you ever successfully changed a habit by feeling you were punishing yourself?
Is being grumpy usual whenever you modify a routine?
The explanation is simple: your brain is used to your old ways. So it will keep asking for the reward : “I need X, why don’t you give me X? Give me X!”
Does that mean that change is impossible? Not if you take the time to analyse your loop.
Audit your habit
Every habit has its own loop that needs to be understood. In order to lead the audit successfully, keep track of your habit for at least 7 days as you need to identify the patterns.
1. Isolate every element of the loop
by answering the following questions:
– What is the habit I want to quit? (routine) This is the easiest part: the behaviour you want to change.
– What are the external / internal elements at the origin of the routine? (cues)
You need to know what causes you to [routine]. Answer the following questions :
- Where are you?
- What time is it?
- What is your emotional state?
- Are you alone or with other people?
- What are your previous actions/thoughts?
– What am I craving for? (Nature of reward) What generally happens after the routine? Do you feel happy? Motivated? Energetic ? Company?
2. Replace the routine:
How can you get the same reward differently? Try new routines and see if you feel satisfied afterwards.
If you lead committedly this habit audit, you will have the keys to build up a successful strategy to get rid of the unwanted habit.
How does it work concretely?
Matthew drinks an average of 2 litres of soda a day. Every time he sips a glass of his favourite soda, the fuzzy, bubbly sensation in his mouth provokes an energy rush that decreases after two hours. He wants to stop drinking soda and audited his habits for 10 days. By reviewing what he wrote, he acknowledged that:
- he had the urge to drink soda around the hours 11, 14 and 17.00
- he is tired and would start yawning around those times
- he feels very energetic after his 2 soda cans.
His first hypothesis is that he was looking for a higher energy level by drinking a soda.
How can he get it differently? He tried different things for a month: talk to a colleague on a phone, going for a walk, drinking water and eating a banana. The most efficient was drinking water regularly and eating a fruit.
Decision, beliefs and action
Charles Dunhigg concludes his book by saying that “your habits are what you chose them to be “. The decision to change and motivation are indeed very important. However, the strong belief that change can happen is essential. This is where everything starts: the decision of doing anything will be reinforced by the belief in your success. You will keep the motivation level high because you know that you will succeed. Your actions will stay congruent to the belief. Saying sentences like: “I will never manage to change” will drag you down.
How can you reinforce your beliefs?
- Ask several people who did what you want to do how they did, ask about their strategy. Their success can inspire you.
- Write a belief you would like to have and repeat it to you daily as a mantra.
- Look for everything that proves you this belief is true.
Henri Ford said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Can you pick a habit that is bothering you and audit it for 7 days? Share your result with us and start the change!