What Are Habits?
Although you may not realize it, studies by neurobiologists show that habits control up to 95% of human behavior. Habits can be either good or bad, but they are difficult to give up once learned. Maybe you’ve felt like you have fallen into a routine that makes it hard to learn new things. Or better yet, you might be a victim of a bad habit that feels impossible to quit. Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, gives an insight into how habits work and how to utilize them properly.
When you consider habits, you probably think about “good” or “bad” habits. Common examples include going to the gym, multitasking, eating healthy, biting your nails, and not getting enough sleep. Whether it is a good habit or a bad one, it often becomes challenging to break once it is built. It is one thing to have these habits, but another to understand how habits are formed. In his book, Duhigg breaks down habits into a basic cycle featuring a cue, a routine, and a reward.
Cue: A cue is something that triggers a habit to begin. Cues can be various things and serve as an alert for your brain to subconsciously begin the habit. For example, when you get into the driver’s seat of your car, you instinctively cue yourself to start the car.
Routine: A routine is the action step of a habit. Keeping the car example, the cue of being in your car leads to the routine of turning your car on.
Reward: The reward is the feeling at the end of your habit cycle. It is the result of your habit and why you established your habit in the first place. To finish off the car example, the reward is when your car turns on, and you can start driving.
Changing Your Habits
When it comes to getting rid of bad habits, the first approach is to quit cold turkey. While this may work for some, it still leaves you to face the same cues and doesn’t actually remove the craving to fulfill the routine for the reward. Now that you understand how cues, routines, and rewards make up a habit, you can control them and shape them for the better.
In his book, Duhigg writes about the “Golden Rule of Habit Change” that states, “you can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” To effectively change a habit, you must use the same cue and provide the same reward, but change the routine. Since the cue is usually beyond our control, you have to change how you react to it. Also, to be fulfilled afterward, you need to feel a similar or better reward as a result.
An example of this would be for people who have a habit of over-using social media. It’s easy to get lost swiping up and down social media apps because they are accessible and attention-grabbing. The first step would be to identify a cue. This might be a notification, an excess of free time, or boredom. Next, you want to find a new routine to replace social media. Beneficial routines could include working out, going for a run, or reading a book. Now that you have this established, you can be attentive to when your cues occur and choose your new routine instead. The result will be a new, different, and more fulfilling reward.
By understanding the power of habits and how they influence your everyday life, you will control how they affect you. I challenge you today to identify a negative habit of yours and change it better using this knowledge.