I'll get right to it.
What if I told you there was a way you could make or break a habit with three, seriously simple steps— and with it, transform your life?
We all have habits we'd love to kick, and envy the habits of those shining, brilliant, productive people— you know the ones. We'd like less boredom-snacking, less couch-sitting, less excuse making, or stress smoking. More early mornings, yoga sessions, glasses of water, writing everyday, making art, uber-productive (and uber-short) workdays. We want these things will what seems like every fibre of our beings, yet there seems to be something dancing, tantalisingly, just out of the way. We plan, we dream, we desire, and then... we fail. We go back on our word, fall back into bad habits, or fail to stick to good ones.
The thing is, our habits are deeper than that. What if by becoming aware of the force of habits you could live your day to day life with laser-focused awareness when it's needed, and streamlined, efficient habit when it's not?
You can. We will. Let's do it.
But... hang on.
I've been trying to ditch the nail-biting, latte-swigging habit for months now and always end up in the same shame circle, you say. Why is this any different?
Because. Because of the science.
NOT ALL HABITS ARE BAD.
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains just how much we rely on habits for our success and our survival. We'd explode if we had to do everything manually, without that handy autopilot. Could you image for a moment, what would happen if people had to stop and think critically about every driving decision they make? People would be steam-rolled by cars left and right. We do these things without conscious though, after enough practise, and our subconscious brain allows us to react to things instinctively— and a hell of a lot faster than if we had to stop and think: "Well, this gent has up and slammed on his breaks. What to do, what to do..."
But these habits can be incredibly strong, and can grow very deep roots in parts of our lives we'd rather they not be.
WHY ARE HABITS SO STRONG & WHY DO THEY WORK?
A ridiculous amount of things we do each day are driven by habit. Breakfast? Coffee making? Way to work? Makeup? Email checking? Snacking at break?
Habits are formed when a cue creates a craving and is satisfied with a reward. This is the cycle of habits, and understanding how habits are formed can help you make or break them.
For example: After dinner (cue) you want to have a big dessert (craving), so you dig into a large bowl of ice cream and caramel sauce (reward)— which, if you are moving to make a change, results in a fourth step: regret. Of course, there are degrees of strength of habit, and some people seem to be exceptionally good at making and breaking them. Why is that?
Sometimes our cravings are not what they seem.
The secret is in being able to replace the reward with a different, but satisfying action at the onset of the cue, which will, over time, begin to shift the craving. This new habit will become automatic as any other.
In this situation, when you come upon the craving of a big dessert after dinner, instead, savour a small piece of dark chocolate (if sugar satisfaction is the underlying desire), or a beautiful evening walk with friends or family (if alleviating boredom is the underlying desire). We may initially think that the craving for dessert is simply that: a craving for sweets, but if you dig around a bit, you might find that it's caused by boredom and could just as easily be satisfied with a walk.
Although we've been talking about breaking a habit, the pattern of change is the same if you are trying to build a new habit. Say you're wanting to take up jogging, or a new yoga practise (hello, Personal Struggle of 2015). You need to create the craving by following up the cue & action with a reward. The cue could be a certain time of day you intend to practise, the action yoga, and the reward a smoothie, or some knitting, or reading a chapter of your favourite book. You don't want the reward to be fostering another bad habit, but as long as your brain reads it as a reward, you will train your brain to crave the yoga, in order to receive the reward of smoothie-making or pleasure-reading.
We need to be clever and tricksy in order to convince the brain that an improvement (which may initially seem to be a limitation or deprivation) is a true reward— logically, we know they are, and long-term, they'll be proved to be.
THE THREE STEPS
So, to recap, we're wanting to:
1. Identify the cue.
2. Identify and understand the craving (do you actually want cake, or are you simply bored).
3. Replace the previous reward with the more desirable reward to shift the craving.
My own personal habits to be tackled?
Boredom eating junkfood. My goal? Replace the rummaging through the fridge with reading, or a short walk around the block.
SO TELL ME.
What goals are you wanting to make or break? Let me know in the comments below what brilliant changes you want to make in your life. I can't wait to hear what sorts of wonderful, inspiring things you're up to.