“Quality is not an act; it is a habit.” — Aristotle
In his New York Times bestselling book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg explains that Individuals and habits are all different, and so the specifics of diagnosing and changing the patterns in our lives differ from person to person and behavior to behavior. In chapter one of his book, Duhigg shares that MIT researchers discovered a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit, a loop that comprises three parts: A cue, a routine, and a reward.
The Habit Loop
Understanding your habits requires identifying how your loops work. Once you have established the habit loop of a particular behavior, you can look for ways to replace old vices with new routines.
Obviously, it would be unfair for me to simplify the content of Duhigg’s wonderful and super helpful book so I will share my personal experience which helped me learn about my own habits and the habits of many who worked with, thus allowing to seek for new and healthier ones.
Essentially, it’s about asking yourself if your habits are serving you well and if they are conducive to your core values, are they moving you closer to your goals? The sum of your habits controls the outcome of your life. They play a huge factor in your happiness. They make you fat or fit, healthy or unhealthy. Your success depends on them. So it’s fair to say that improving or replacing your old vices with new behaviors would do the trick.
There is a framework very similar to Duhigg’s that I use when I realize that a habit is not working for me:
I identify the trigger responsible for my behavior (cue) I recognize the behavior that led me to take action (routine) I acknowledge the reward of my action (reward)
Once I understand the framework, I ask myself what other trigger and behavior would help me get the same or similar reward. Changing the trigger (or cue) and the behavior (or routine) is crucial to forming a new and healthier habit.
Mary loves to eat a couple of cookies while watching her favorite TV show every evening after a hard and stressful day at work. (She knows that she is not matching her action with her core value of being fit and healthy. But it’s a habit!)
What’s her trigger (or cue)?
The TV show
What’s her behavior (or routine)?
What’s her reward?
Now let’s help Mary in replacing her bad habit and reform a new one: New trigger (or cue)
Set a reminder to brush her teeth by setting a time.
New Behavior (or routine)
Brush her teeth
Feeling good (both for not eating cookies and for being consistent with her core values)
Mary could have chosen many other healthier reminders to set her new triggers and behaviors. I like mine to be things like eating a healthy snack, reading, going for a walk, calling a friend, taking a shower, or wait for fifteen minutes until the craving goes away.
If your core value is to be fit and healthy, but your habit is to eat junk, guess what? You are not being true to yourself; your behavior is not matching your core value. So, if you feel anxious about things you know you shouldn’t be doing, ask yourself if your action is matching your core value.
Start cultivating the right mindset by deciding to change from the inside out. I promise that by being committed to your new healthy behavior, for a sustained period, you will be on your way to enjoying your new life.
If you have the right self-worth and self-image, you’ll do what’s conducive to your health and well-being. The process will become faster, healthier, and easier than you’ve ever imagined it to be.