Life potentials Psychology of Habits

The key to sustaining positive change is to turn each desired action into a habit.

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Habits shape your life! 

40 percent of your actions are not conscious decisions but habits. So habits are a big part of your life - and a lot of the time you don’t even notice it!

Interesting facts about Habits 

  • Your life is to a large extent the sum of all your habits – good or bad. 
  • You can take control of your life by changing your habits. 
  • It’s hard to shake off a habit since it takes an average of 66 days before a new habit takes root in our brain. 
  • Habits never truly disappear. They are just overpowered by other habits. 
  • A survey showed that the daily habit of self-acceptance was the cause of most people’s happiness. 
  • Cravings are the brain’s motivator. For something to become a habit, our brain must crave it.

How do habits form? 

The collection of behaviors that could be as simple as having coffee when we wake up or as complicated as running away from problems when they come. These habits did not happen overnight, we adapted them little by little into our lives and psyche, until they became second nature.

Habits are our brain’s way of increasing its efficiency. Our brain turns daily actions and behaviors into habits, so we would do them automatically and without too much thought – thus freeing up our brainpower for other more important challenges. This strategy of our brain has wonderful benefits for us. It allows us to function better in life. Just imagine if you have to consider and ponder every single task or reaction. We’d be doing nothing else but think!

If you noticed, the first time you did something, it required a lot of your concentration and brainpower. But as you repeatedly do them, it became easier. The mental power you need to perform these tasks decreased significantly. This process is called “chunking” – and it is the root of habits. Every day, we rely on these “chunks” of behavior unconsciously.

According to neuroscientist David Eagleman in Incognito: “Brains are in the business of gathering information and steering behavior appropriately. It doesn’t matter whether consciousness is involved in the decision making. And most of the time, it’s not.”

Habits are good. 

Our brain knows what it’s doing. Our only concern is, are the habits we’re accumulating beneficial to us, or not? And if not, how do we change them?

The 3 Step Loop of Habits 

To be able to change a negative habit, we have to understand how it forms. In the 1990s, a group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered a neurological process that is at the core of every habit. This simple 3-step loop is very powerful – it is hard-wired into our brain. So, to change the rules, you have to know the rules first.

  1. Cue – is any trigger that tells your brain when and which habit to use. 
  2. Routine – is an activity, emotion or behavior. 
  3. Reward – is how your brain determines if a loop is beneficial to you or not.

For example: Cue – You’re feeling bored. Routine - You grab a bottle of wine. Reward – You feel relaxed and happy.

The cue and the reward has a very strong influence in creating habits. It’s the cause of cravings and makes you repeat behaviors or actions. But your innocent wine drinking can turn you into an alcoholic, if you do it often enough. So, let’s say you want to change that habit, what would you need to do?

If you only focused on changing the routine, like stop drinking wine, you will be unhappy. Your brain will think that the loop doesn’t work, and it will reinforce your drinking habit. Our brain demands fulfillment and satisfaction. To be able to change a negative habit, you have to replace the routine in the loop with something else – which will also give you the same reward.

Instead of grabbing a bottle of wine when you feel bored, try jogging or watching a good movie. These activities will offer the same reward – you will feel relaxed afterwards. Your brain will think that this particular loop works. As you do it more often, and experience the same reward, it will replace the loop where you reach for a bottle of wine when you get bored.

This 3 step loop shows you that you have the power to change a bad habit that’s causing you more harm than good.

The power of habits to create positive change 

Many people have habits that they want to shake off. Smoking for example is a hard habit to break. People try to quit, but the cravings overwhelm them and they fall off the wagon. It’s not for lack of determination that they fail. It’s lack of understanding of how habits are formed. Since you now understand how habits take hold of our life, you could start creating new loops and forming new habits that will promote positive changes. It is possible to kick whatever bad habit is holding you back.

The following steps can help manifest positive habits in your life:

  1. Examine the Routine – This would be the behavior you want to change. If being an alcoholic is a problem, what makes you do it? What satisfaction do you get?
  2. Analyze the Reward – Drinking gives you hangovers and breeds other problems. But obviously, you get an immediate reward when you reach for that bottle. What is the reward? Is it an escape, the immediate feeling of relaxation or the distraction? Once you know the why of the behavior, it’ll be easier to find a better habit that will give you the same reward.
  3. Identify the Cue –What compels your behavior? Triggers are stealthy so you might need to observe your own behavior and take notes. What were you doing before an unwanted act? What were you feeling? What reward were you after? Being aware of the habit and what’s reinforcing it is a positive way forward, and is the first step to change.

How to create good habits for yourself 

You are the captain of your ship. Sometimes we tend to believe that we are helpless and make self-defeating statements such as, “This is all I am”, or “I can’t help it.” That’s far from the truth. You have the power to take control of the processes that takes place in your brain. Now that you know that your brain is just following your lead, and doing what it thinks is good for you, you can reprogram it.

Remember that the trick is to replace the routine with a healthier action or behavior that will yield the same rewards. Try out different routines until you’re happy with the results. Don’t force yourself to do something that you’re not completely happy with. When you do, it will be difficult to sustain it for a long period of time, and you’ll revert to old habits.

We know it’s not as simple as it sounds. Even if you tell your brain that a certain habit has a reward won’t mean that the habit will stick. But, with enough repetition and reinforcement, your brain will eventually understand the positive effect of a routine and crave the reward. 

Willpower is a muscle, not a skill. We all have it. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes and it will touch everything in your life. If you believe you can change, and all your actions are moving towards the change you want to see – it will become reality. How did you change a bad habit? Share your strategy with us.

References

  1. Experience Life: The Power of Habit
  2. CBN NEWS: Power of Habit, The Key to Breaking Harmful Patterns

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Read "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" to discover the key to creating positive change in your life: Turn your desired actions into habits.


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