The habit loop is the neurological loop that governs any habit. This is the term introduced by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit.
It consists of three elements: cue, routine and reward. Understanding these three elements of the habit loop can help you break bad habits and create new habits.
Charles Duhigg writes that habits are responsible for most of what we do. Our brains work on autopilot for most of the actions and we don’t need to think deliberately.
I have a habit of having tea as soon as I wake up. All of these actions don’t need my attention. I will wake up, brush and directly go to the kitchen to make tea.
Even if I am half asleep, I don’t forget anything. My brain is on autopilot for those activities. If I have to do something new, I have to write down on paper and put up a reminder on the fridge door. I will open the fridge in any case to get the milk.
How habits are made
How incredible our brain is. Same happens with good and bad habits. You get a cue, have a routine to that trigger and then you feel the reward. This reward can be hidden but it releases dopamines in your brain. Dopamines are the reward chemical of brain which drives habits.
Every time something good happens, dopamine tightens the link between the situation and the action made you feel this way. This is how addictive substances are created. Once it gives you pleasure, you crave it next time too.
Scientists say that habits emerge because our brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. When a habit is formed, it runs on autopilot
Now the question is, how to break bad habits. Changing habits and making a new one is a complex science but it is possible. There are a few steps you can follow to get out of this never-ending loop of bad habits. It starts with identifying your bad habits, identifying thew cues and the reward attached to the habit.
How to change the habit loop
1. Identify your habits
If you really want to build self-discipline and break bad habits, you need to realise that you have bad habits. Make a list of your bad habits. Just write down whatever comes to your mind and feel that it needs to be changed.
Different habits have different cues, routines so they need to be tackled differently. The habit of smoking will need a different approach than eating unhealthy. They have different cues and behaviours. But the result is the same, a reward. Identify which one you want to tackle first.
Start small and work one at a time. When you control your one bad habit, it will inspire you to work on other ones too.
2. Change the routine
To break a habit, you have to identify the trigger or cue. Now the cue is there and the reward would be there, you have to change the routine. For example, you want to check your phone for social media as soon as you get the time. Here the cue is time, and the routine is to check the phone. the reward will be the release of endorphins in your brain which gives happiness.
Don’t get me wrong, we all have this habit. Mine got controlled automatically when my daughter started crying for the phone. Now I have to keep my phone hidden most of the time to keep her screen time to the minimum.
The only way is to do something else at that time. You can do a few things, to curb this addiction
- take a walk whenever you get time
- If you are at home, start decluttering your home
- Drink some water
- Put on music and dance
- You have time, so talk to your loved ones
- if you have kids at home, play with them.
The end goal is to divert attention towards something meaningful which gives you the reward but it comes from a healthy habit.
3. How much you need to do to break them
When you know your bad habits and the triggers, you will figure out what you need to do to break that habit. You will start having a plan consistent with the trigger. Some bad habits are easy to break and some are a bit adamant. Calculate how much you will need to push yourself to change that habit.
Start with what you feel is easy to break. Breaking one bad habit will always give you the enthusiasm to break the toughest one. For example, giving up eating chips is easier than quitting smoking.
You will need a stronger action plan to quit smoking than eating chips.
4. Introspect what you actually want by changing the habit loop
This is by far the most neglected part and most important. If you talk to somebody about changing habits, you will get the answer, “self-control”. Researchers at Yale Unversity and at other places have shown that the brain part related to self-control ( eg, Prefrontal Cortex ) is the first to go offline while faced with the triggers as in case of stress.
Instead of trying to change the habit, know exactly what you want by changing the habit. Knowing the outcome will help you change the routine when faced with a trigger. For example, if you start craving sweets in the afternoon, instead of eating cookies or chocolate, start having some nuts. Associate that craving with the exact amount of nuts you will eat at that time.
I have a sweet tooth. My cravings are not for afternoons only, I crave for sweets whenever I am hungry. What I do is eat properly. Afternoon craving is replaced with a banana or Avocado. I still eat my sweets but the habit is more of a controlled one.
5. Controlling your reaction to triggers
Controlling your reaction to the cue or trigger is the single most important factor in breaking the habit loop. Change how you react to trigger and replace your routine with something healthy. It will give you happiness and reward but a healthier one.
Slowly it will become your new good habit. Hope this helps you in tackling your bad habits. I am with you in whatever you do.
Hope this helps you as it has helped me. If you feel like your bad habits are taking a toll on your physical, emotional, and professional life, please go to a counsellor. This post is for informational purpose only.
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