By: Justin Hill
When I put together the first article on habit change, I was going to write it on two separate frameworks. However, I decided to just focus on one. This article includes that second framework - because let's face it, sometimes options are good.
Habits are monumentally important. In fact, they are a big piece of the puzzle of the collection of experiences that have culminated together to produce your life.
Everyone has struggled with some sort of habit change, like the following examples:
Sure, there's brain chemistry and biological factors that are always working in the background. But, changing a habit, replacing an old one, or introducing a new one, is a crucial part of who you are as a person.
A bulk of Seven Strategies for Positive Aging is a call to change your thinking, and therefore, your habits in terms of the perception and actions we take in accordance to aging. While Seven Strategies for Positive Aging has tons of other information regarding the area of positive aging, there is a lot in there that deals strictly with changing habits.
Like Strategy #5: By Giving and Receiving Help, You Promote Growth.
There's a piece that discusses making a life choice to become a helper through lifestyle behaviors, and how you have to make a commitment to that choice (and habit change) because volunteering (the lifestyle choice and habit) will ebb and flow before it becomes a solid part of your lifestyle behavior patterns.
In other words, habits are difficult to change. Not impossible, but difficult. This means it IS doable. But, it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and commitment.
That’s the first and most solid point – the commitment to change. You have to go all in. It can’t be a half-effort sort of thing. And whether you use the habit framework from Switch or from this article’s framework, the first step (of course you also have to admit that your old habit is actually problematic) is commitment to the new habit (or lifestyle change).
The framework of habit change for this article comes from a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
The book focuses mainly on what the subtitle states: “why we do what we do in life and business.” More importantly, it focuses on how to change if that is what you desire.
The Power of Habit framework involves the following:
Identify the Routine
Identifying the routine involves pinpointing the behavior you would like to change. You may want to think through the steps of the routine of whatever habit you want to change or replace.
For example, Charles Duhigg discusses his routine of leaving his desk, going to the cafeteria, and buying himself a cookie, and how he wanted to change that. In order to change it, he had to break down and identify his routine – basically the habit of buying and eating the cookie that led to his weight gain.
Think about your routine in the habit loop diagram from The Power of Habit below. You may even want to jot down each piece of your habit loop in the diagram.
Experiment with Rewards
Experimenting with rewards is the part where you examine your different routines and rewards.
Charles Duhigg decided to buy other junk food instead of the cookie. On other days, he walked a different route, or purchased coffee, and talked with a colleague in their office. The point is to experiment with different routines and complete each routine with a reward.
After you try each new thing, set a 15-minute timer, and when it alerts you, see if you still have that same urge (with Charles Duhigg, it was the urge to eat a cookie). If you still have the original urge, you haven’t identified the cue.
Repeat your experimentation with routines and rewards, and you’ll eventually figure out the actual cue to the routine. If you were hungry, perhaps something other than junk food would suffice. If you needed a break, perhaps talking with someone else would ease the urge. What if you were tired? Perhaps a cup of coffee would help.
Once you get a better idea of your routine and the reward involved in it, you will want to pinpoint the cue.
Isolate the Cue
Now’s the time to isolate the cue – the trigger that leads you into action. Habitual cues generally fall into one of five categories:
If you really want to change this habit, keep a log of your daily activity when you feel the urge and move into your habit routine. Things like:
Jot these things down each time the cue (the urge) hits you, and you engage in the habit. Eventually, as you look at the data, you should be able to see a pattern that details your habit routine. Once you see the pattern, you should be able to break it or replace it.
That’s where having a plan helps.
Have a Plan
Once you’ve figured out your routine, reward, and cue, it should be easier to replace it with something else. It’s important to devise a plan that is built around the cue. An important piece is to figure out the time it happens, so you can set a timer to signal when to engage in the habit. If you find that it works, and it becomes more automatic overtime, then you’ve discovered the right cue and reward, and you can re-tune the habit.
For example, Charles Duhigg’s revelation was that he needed a break from research, and his cookie munching was just a front for that needed break. He eventually pinpointed a time when it happened (3:30), and instead of going to the cafeteria and buying a cookie, then talking, he instead made a plan to walk to a friend’s desk at 3:30 every day and talk for 10 minutes.
Thus, it eliminated the eating of the cookie that led to his weight gain. To reinforce the habit, he even set an alarm clock to go off at 3:30 every day to signify the beginning of his routine. It didn’t go smoothly at first, but eventually he got it to even out and was able to replace the habit and stop eating the daily cookie.
That’s The Power of Habit framework in a nutshell.
Try (and test) it out. Let me know how it goes. As said before, habit change is not necessarily an easy thing, and this framework may not work the same if say you are trying to quit smoking versus trying to eliminate that cookie you eat every afternoon.
The framework is just a place to start. Change requires time, repeated effort (experiments) and failures. Once you better understand your habits, you can deal with them appropriately. And, with this framework, it is just about pinpointing the cue, the routine, and the reward involved in the said habit.
Once you figure that out, you have the power to change it. Good luck!
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