Breaking Or Making A Habit Loop
Change is difficult. It’s hard to stop doing the things that you’ve always done simply because you’ve done them for so long. Routine is a great tool to set habits – whether they are new or longstanding. The more often you do something, the higher are the chances that you will stick with that behavior over time. While you want to maintain your positive habits, there might be some not-so-positive habits that you’d like to change. But before we can understand how to initiate a change of habit, it’s important we take a closer look at what constitutes a habit loop.
A habit loop is a frame for thinking about the construction and destruction of habits. Journalist Charles Duhigg talks about the concept in his book The Power of Habit, where he explains why and how habits develop in the first place. The habit loop constitutes three main parts:
- The cue
- The routine
- The reward
Also referred to as the reminder, the cue is basically the trigger that kicks off habitual behavior. A cue can refer to the location, time, your last action, current emotional state or even the people around you that cause you to partake in a habit.
Routine refers to repeated behavior. Habitual behavior occurs automatically even though you may have made a conscious decision to pursue that action the first few times you did it. Over time, this routine becomes more natural, thanks to the final part of the habit loop.
Rewards refer to what habitual behavior does for you. Rewards keep habits firmly in place and reinforce routines. Some rewards are good and worth holding on to while other rewards are less beneficial and best left at bay.
Breaking the loop
Change of habit is a difficult task since the process is far more complicated than simply quitting a certain behavior. But change is certainly possible according to Duhigg who recommends another process with multiple steps.
First, you need to identify the routine. This is easy since the routine usually refers to the habit you want to break. Maybe your habit is to sleep in until you’re unavoidably close to running late for work. Your routine might involve switching off the alarm and rolling over to catch some more minutes of sleep.
Next, you try out different rewards. Habits generally develop when certain actions generate rewards. Sleeping in might help you feel more rested, stay warm in bed instead of facing a cold, dark morning or put off your morning routine for some time. Exploring what one routine does for you can help you experiment with rewards that offer similar fulfillment. Take a few days to change your routine around a little bit. This will help you understand what exactly you get out of it. Keep track of how you feel as you discover a new reward. Maybe snooze your alarm for a couple of minutes. Does that make you feel adequately rested and still leave you with enough time to get ready for work?
Then, you explore your triggers. Pointing out specific cues that trigger your routine is an integral step in breaking the habit. Remember the types of cues we discussed earlier? Every time you see yourself repeating the routine, take note of the possible cues. Writing down the potential triggers can help you identify them more clearly and recognize patterns. Try this out for a few days before looking over your notes to see if anything stands out.
Finally, charter a way around those cues. Understanding the three parts of your habit loop can help you construct a unique plan to stop it from playing on repeat. If we consider the habit of sleeping in, your cues were your location and time. You realize your reward is the delay in your morning ritual because you aren’t ready to face the day’s chores. When you come to understand your loop, you can develop a plan to change your habit.
What to keep in mind
Some people find it more challenging to change habits. The habit loop method doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It might take some trial and error to find a method that works best for you but there are other ways to change undesired habits. What is important is that you remember habits form quickly and they don’t break overnight. You need to commit to your new routine for a stretched-out period of time and only then can you hope that it will stick.
Finally, it is always beneficial to be motivated. If you don’t really wish to change, you will surely struggle to break the loop. However, also remember that there is nothing wrong in having habits. You really don’t have to change if you don’t want to. All we wanted to say is breaking down your habit loop can help form productive routines that still feel rewarding at the end of the day.
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