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Break old habits and form new habits

Anatomy of a habit.

Habits are tough to break and take a while to form. In this post, we take a look at how habits are ingrained, so it can become easier for you to create the changes you want.

This is a follow on from our previous post on how long it takes to break or form a habit.

The below points are quotes from “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It’s a great read. I’ve added a link below if you’d like to grab a copy.

Chunking — The Root of Habits

The process—in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine—is known as ‘chunking,’ and it’s at the root of how habits form.

Why do Habits Emerge?

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for a smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and therefore causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors …

The Three Step Loop of Habit Formation:

This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually… a habit, like regular exercise, is born.

Does the Brain Stop Working?

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.

How To Change A Habit:

We know that a habit cannot be eradicated—it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted. But that’s not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.

Does a Habit Disappear?

Habits never really disappear. They’re encoded into the structures of our brain, and that’s a huge advantage for us, because it would be awful if we had to relearn how to drive after every vacation. The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards.

My experience.

By understanding that habits can’t be eradicated, but can be replaced, my mindset shifted. I was able to accept that the habits I was trying to break were essentially a part of me, but that I could replace them by focussing my effort on the new habit I was trying to form. The shift in focus immediately takes me into a growth mindset, focussed on positive change, which in turn, makes it possible, even a little fun, to celebrate every little milestone along the way.

Something like a morning workout has many benefits. Instead of hitting the snooze button, how about getting into the habit of some early exercise?

Suggested Reading: 

Atomic Habits – James Clear   

The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

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