Have you read Part 1? If not click here, otherwise, let’s continue where we left...
Let’s get into the three parts of habits:
1- What triggers the action - Emotions create motions, thus actions; I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m bored, I’m sad - are all emotions that trigger actions.
2- The action itself - Generally a negative action you may want to cut back: I drink soft drinks, I indulge in sweets, I snack, I drink alcohol, I smoke cigarettes, I procrastinate.
3- The positive result because of the action - I’m temporarily satisfied. I am temporarily happy. My hands/mind are occupied. I can forget the bad day I had.
These habits, depending on our actions in relation to our triggers, can be part of either a vicious negative downward spiral, as well as an empowering and great for a healthy lifestyle. As Charles Duhigg points out in The Power Of Habit: “There is nothing programmed into our brains that makes us see a box of doughnuts and automatically want a sugary treat. But once our brain learns that a doughnut box contains yummy sugar and other carbohydrates, it will start anticipating the sugar high. Our brains will push us toward the box. Then, if we don’t eat the doughnut, we’ll feel disappointed.” Our bodies are not smart enough to know what it needs to do: it just wants to fix the pain or chase the temporary pleasure, and whichever way you choose to respond will become the habit when it’s done enough times. This is actually why we crave certain foods, why we can’t not check our phone every time we receive a notification, and why we can’t keep ourselves from watching one more episode.
Unconsciously we have trained our brains to 1: Take a cue (seeing a doughnut), 2: Anticipate a reward (a sugar high), and 3: Make the behaviour automatic (eat that donut). Now, let’s compare that to a positive scenario : 1 Take a cue (you see your gym gear), 2: Anticipate a reward (a workout’s high), and 3: Make the behaviour automatic (do that workout!). Let’s take a look at how we are able to recognise the triggers. Whether you are trying to change an old habit, stop a unhealthy habit, or begin a healthy habit, it starts with the first step in the process:
“The Cue.” If you want to stop soft drinks, but feel like you need it every afternoon to get through work, your brain has been wired to think SOFT DRINKS after the cue:
Cue: I’m tired, thirsty, and lack energy.
Routine: I drink a soft drink around.
Reward: Sugar! Temporary Satisfaction!
When identifying bad habits to avoid, it starts by becoming aware of the cue that sets the habit in motion. Simply being aware of the cue is a great start to breaking the cycle:
When I get bored (cue), I eat snacks (routine) and it fills the void with a happy stomach (reward).
When I come home from work (cue), I opt for the couch and TV (routine), and it helps me forget about work (reward).
When I get nervous (cue), I bite my nails (routine), to take my mind off the awkwardness (reward).
So if you are looking to break a bad habit, it begins by identifying what the cues are that make you take the action that you’re trying to stop. In Part 3 together we will look into how you can mentally train yourself to build a new healthy habit by identifying the habit you want to build and the cue you want to use to proceed it!
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