Take a moment to think about your goals, wishes, and desires. What is it that you want to accomplish? Get a better job or get a promotion? Start a new business? Lose 20 (or 30 or 50) pounds? Get a beach body? Better relationships? Save more money? Write a book? Quit smoking? Whatever you desire in your life, it will require a consistent change in your own behavior. Think about it. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, why have you not achieved this goal? Is it because you don’t know what is needed to lose weight and keep it off? This may be true for some people as they may not have the proper knowledge of exercise and nutrition. For most of us, however, the primary reason is that we are unable to consistently change our own behavior to exercise regularly, to eat healthier food, or to avoid junk food and sugary treats.
To quote Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit”
What we do once in a while is not going to change much in our lives! What we repeatedly do, the kind of habits we form will determine whether we succeed or not, in achieving our goals and desires.
What is a habit? Merriam-Webster’s definition of habit is, “An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary” Cambridge Dictionary defines a habit as “ something that you do regularly and often, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it”.
A few things to note here —
- Habits are an acquired mode of behavior. It means we can “acquire” new habits or different modes of behavior
- Something that we do regularly and often
- Nearly or completely involuntary — without knowing that we are doing it
How are habits formed?
In his bestselling book, “The Power of Habits”, Charles Duhigg describes the process of habit formation. He coined this three part process, “The Habit Loop”. All habits, good or bad, small or large have these three components.
- Cue: Cue is the trigger that signals the brain to go into an automatic mode and start a specific habit.
- Routine: The routine is a physical, mental or emotional behavior that follows the cue.
- Reward: Reward is the pleasurable activity that helps the brain decide whether this particular behavior is worth remembering and repeating for the future.
Let us take an example to understand this. When a new message arrives via your email or one of the social media feeds, your smartphone buzzes or beeps. That buzz or beep is the cue. We will then pick up the smartphone, and read the email, message, or post. That is the routine. The message usually provides some piece of news, a joke, inspiration, entertainment, or the feeling of being connected with someone. That is the reward.
With enough repetitions, these three phases — cue, routine, reward — get seamlessly connected into a single unconscious process, and a habit is formed. This behavior becomes automatic and out of the awareness of the thinking brain. The cue triggers the behavior, and we go on cruise-control or auto-pilot mode. A powerful sense of anticipation and craving develops as soon as we encounter the cue. As soon as our smartphone beeps – we anticipate and crave the reward, and perform the routine almost unconsciously. As we are not aware of this process – the habit loop – it becomes difficult to change our habits. Understanding the three steps in the habit loop will help us in forming good habits or changing bad habits.
Which new habits would you like to form? Which old habits you would like to change?
Read part 2 of this article