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The Secret to Creating Habits that Stick

It’s a brand new year and we all know what that means, resolutions!

All resolutions, whether you call them a resolution or a goal, are the same thing. Whether you want to get promoted, save up for a house, lose 15 lbs, or even just take the stairs more often, you’re going to need to create new habits to do so.

It seems a little bit too simple, but when you get to the core of it, that’s exactly what it is. Habits dictate everything you do, and creating good ones is the key to success in any area of your life.

Lately I have been completely consumed with the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and it has shed some serious light on how I think about habits.

The book is quite long and involved and draws upon hundreds of scientific studies that have been conducted over the past century regarding habits in life and business.

If you are fascinated with the brain and how it works, you will not be able to put this book down.

I love learning about how our brains work and am also very intrigued by the idea of creating habits for better health and success to make those things seemingly come easier.

Something that I found interesting about this book is it talks about habits being more than what we do when we get up in the morning, or when we’re bored, or how we relax.

Duhigg notes that our life is formed from hundreds of habits that we preform every single day. He says that without habits our brains would be so overloaded with information that we wouldn’t be able to function.

A habit that I would have considered before reading the book for example would be getting a Starbucks when I’m out. However, after reading this book, I realize that the act of getting a Starbucks is made up of dozens and dozens of micro habits.

Duhigg explains that simply backing your car out of your driveway is, in itself at least a dozen habits. It’s something that we do without having to think about it.

The car key go here. Buckle the seatbelt here. Push the brake now. Check the mirrors here and here. Gently accelerate. Look over your shoulder now. Shift now. And so on.

He explains that these habits that we do on auto piolet are how we are able to still have room in our brains to carry out a conversation or realize that we left the kitchen light on while doing all of these small tasks.

*Mind blown*

This book has taught me sooo much that I couldn’t possibly touch on it all in one post, but there was something very interesting about how habits are created and changed that I thought would be helpful to share.

The Habit Loop

In his book, Charles Duhigg speaks about the habit loop. This loop is based upon the three components of habits and sheds some light on how we can change habits most effectively.

The three components to the habit loop are Que-Routine-Reward.

Que- The Que is what triggers your habit, for example walking up may trigger the habit of making a coffee. Or seeing a donut may trigger you to eat a donut.

Routine- The routine is the habit itself. In the above examples making a coffee and eating the donut is the routine.

Reward- The Reward is what creates the habit. It’s why you make the coffee or eat the donut. And note that this may be different for everyone. Maybe you make a coffee because you like the effects of the caffeine, or maybe you like the taste, or you could just like the routine of a hot drink in the morning, or having quiet time alone to wake up.

The reward is what makes a habit, a habit. If you didn’t like the taste of a donut, or they made you feel nauseous, the habit of eating a donut when you saw a donut probably wouldn’t stick.

This is also why most new habits we try to create for better health and so on, don’t stick.

This January you may try to create a habit of working out daily. But you soon realize that you don’t like working out and there is no immediate reward for doing so, and by February your new habit has fizzled.

The Secret to Making Habits Stick

Duhigg explains in his book that the secret to creating habits that stick is simply changing the routine of habits that you already have.

For example, the routine of making a coffee when you wake up could easily be replaced with a healthier habit. If your reward for making a coffee in the morning was to have some quiet time alone, then changing the routine from making a coffee to going for a jog would yield the same reward.

The Que and Reward stay the same, it’s all about changing the existing routine.

Maybe you make a coffee in the morning for the effects of the caffeine rush, or just for the hot drink in the morning. Swap it out for a healthier green tea. The Que and Reward stay the same.

If you have a habit of eating a donut whenever you are presented with an opportunity to eat a donut, then figure out what the reward you are seeking is.

This is likely going to take a bit of guessing and testing to find out. And you may find that it’s not for the sweet taste of the pastry you’re craving. Maybe it’s the instant satisfaction you crave. Or your reward is a break from your work to go get the donut. Or maybe you’re just hungry, or your blood sugar is low.

These could easily be replaced with healthier habits like keeping an apple at your desk, taking a stroll around the block, or finding a new way to achieve the feeling of instant satisfaction that doesn’t add to your waist line.

You may have to try a lot of different things until you find something that satisfies that craving. And to test if it has truly satisfied that craving, check in 15 minutes later to see if you still crave that donut. If after 15 minutes of eating an apple you still crave the donut, maybe you’re craving the jolt of energy you get from eating the donut. Or maybe it’s the walk across the office that you’re craving, or the chat with your colleagues. If so, the next time you are presented with donuts or other sugary treats, try another scenario.

When you’re trying to create better habits for yourself or trying to eliminate bad habits, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, try changing the routine of habits that you already have. Or, make sure that your new habit has some kind of reward in place that will cause you to crave the routine.

If you’re trying to make working out a daily habit, try replacing an existing habit with the same Que and similar Reward.

For example, if you come home after work and watch tv. The Que is getting off work, the Routine is watching tv, and the reward may be feeling entertained.

Instead, create a habit of working out by using the same Que of getting off work and instead of driving home to watch tv, go for a jog and listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook. Your Que of getting off work is the same, and your Reward of being entertained is satisfied, and you’re trimming your waistline at the same time.

Changing Bad Habits

This equation could also be helpful in changing existing bad habits.

In his book, Duhigg tells about a young woman with a bad nail biting habit. She had suffered with this habit for years and it got so bad that it started affecting other aspects of her life. She was so embarrassed of her finger nails that she would opt out of social gatherings.

With the help of a habit specialized therapist, she was able to determine that her nail biting habit was formed from boredom. She would bite her nails at times when she felt bored like watching tv or studying.

She was also able to determine what the Reward was for biting her nails. It was the physical sensation. So when she felt the urge to bite her nails, the therapist told her to clutch her arm or anything is reach tightly with her hand.

The physical sensation of gripping the table or her arm was comparable to the physical sensation of chewing on her nails. Within a few weeks she had completely rid her life-long habit of biting her nails and replaced it with firmly gripping her arm.

Since the Que (boredom) and Reward (physical sensation) stayed the same, she was effectively able to adjust the Routine without much difficulty.

Sounds pretty basic right?

But for me, not something I would have ever thought about! I find we kind of figure this out on our own, but knowing how our brain works could make things a whole lot easier!

Also, check out Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit if you’re interested in learning more about what goes on inside our brains when we create, change, and preform our everyday habits. This book is full of incredibly interesting information!


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