The life you have today is, essentially, the result of your habits.
habit = noun / hab·it / [ha-bət]
A routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously.
We start enjoying the journey of transformation when we learn that the life we have today is, essentially, the sum of our habits, and that we can actually change them. Learning to focus on the daily process you follow, not the end product you achieve, is an important step towards mastering your habits. But first, let’s step into the science of habits…
The Science Of Habit
What you DO defines WHO you are, which ultimately affects what you DO and so on. What you repeatedly do ultimately forms and affects the person you are, your belief system, your health, and the personality that you portray, which in the end influence what you do, generating a cycle. This is why one of the most common mistakes that people make is setting their sights on an event of transformation, an overnight success they want to achieve, rather than focusing on their habits and routines.
There is a simple pattern that every habit follows and it’s based on 3 core points:
BUZZ— the trigger that initiates the behaviour.
BEHAVIOUR— the routine itself / the action you take.
BENEFIT— the reward you get from the action you take.
I call this pattern The Storyline Of Habit, because it follows a logical set of events that are linked to each other and each one is generated by the previous one (thus forming a storyline).
This sequence has been proven over and over again by behavioural psychology researchers. Stanford professor, BJ Fogg, calls the three steps reminder, routineand reward. Charles Duhigg’s book refers to the three steps as cue, routine and reward. Regardless of how they’re called, the science behind the process of habit formation is clear and you can be relatively confident that your habits follow the same habit cycle.
These three steps can also be translated into three questions that create an even clearer image of the habit loop.
WHEN — When does the habit start? When is it triggered?
WHAT — What does the habit consist of? What’s the behaviour behind it
WHY — Why is the habit ongoing? Why does one keep doing what they do?
Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits
First we form habits and then they form us. We are what we repeatedly do.
Nearly everything we do in life is the result of our habits. The good ones bring peace, joy and productivity into our lives, and the bad ones steal our peace and joy and prevent our success. From nail biting to cell phone addiction, procrastination to overspending, bad habits seem to outnumber the good ones. Unfortunately, we pay a price for bad habits that outweighs the immediate gratification that they bring. Experts say that at least 40% of what we do is solely the result of habit, which is why it is so important to make good habits and break bad ones.
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One of the ingredients of forming good habits and breaking bad ones is focusing on what you want to do and not on what you want to stop doing. For instance, if you watch too much TV and want to form balanced, healthy free-time habits, don’t think about having fun all the time! Don’t surf the web looking up new TV shows, reading reviews on blogs and forums, but instead get a gym membership, take an acting class or have a good book at hand to read. Stay busy doing things that will keep your mind off of TV series.
It’s very important to understand that once habits form in our minds, they stay there and, according to scientists, will never be wiped out, but will actually be overwritten by new (good) ones, if we take time to work on our habits.
Three methods for transforming your habits:
Method 1. Working on the thing that triggers the habit and/or eliminating it for good.
Method 2. Working on the object of the routine (or the routine itself) and changing it.
Method 3. Altering the outcome at the end of the routine or… poisoning the reward, as I liked to call it.
1 | Working on the trigger
Every time John sits down to write a few pages for his new novel he ends up biting the ends of the pens he uses.
When is this habit triggered? Whenever John sits down with his papers and takes out his pens and writing tools. Therefore by choosing to write his novel on a computer instead of using pens and paper, John will would eliminate the habit trigger, which, in his case, was the pen or pencil he usually uses. Without the pens at hand, John is not able to bit them anymore (damaging his teeth and gums), and he’s still able to work on his novel (and maybe even faster).
Now, you could think that, actually, John’s habit trigger is anxiety, stress or simply his thinking processes while he’s trying to rephrase his ideas before putting them on the paper. That could be true, however, John can’t eliminate his thinking process. He can, however, work on his anxiety issues (if that’s the case), that is true. Nevertheless John’s habit itself is triggered when he sits down to write. He doesn’t bite the ends of pens in other scenarios, so we can think of the pen as the trigger and try to eliminate that, then work on John’s anxiety (once again, if that would be the case).
2 | Working on the object of the behaviour
As I mentioned earlier, when trying to work on the routine (the habit itself), the focus should be on the object of the behaviour.
Biting / Chewing objects (the routine) — Pens, pencils, nails (the object)
When you work on changing on replacing the object of the routine, you can easily transform bad habits into good ones. How?
Let’s say John wants to be able to write his novel using his pens and paper. In this case, he needs to apply Method 2. Every time John will sit down to work on his novel, he will also have an apple and/or some carrot sticks at hand and will keep chewing on those while writing. Sounds funny or crazy? Maybe, but John will definitely stop biting his pens and will also have a healthy snack, all at the same time!
3 | Working on the result
Whenever John writes, he bites the ends of the pen he writes with. That helps him think, he says, but it’s also damaging to his teeth and gums.
As long as John’s unhealthy behaviour doesn’t result in immediate negative consequences, he won’t be bothered by it. That’s why John decided to buy an anti-nail-biting cream from a local drug store and apply it on all of his writing tools.
The next day John sat down to work on his novel and started biting and chewing on his pen, he stopped immediately because of the very bitter taste the cream on the pens left in his mouth. By altering the outcome of his behaviour, John would be able to give up this unhealthy habit.
The 3 methods I’ve presented to you can be easily applied to unhealthy habits we want to be free of. Every habit is different and all these 3 methods cannot be applied to every habit, but you’ll discover that at least one of the methods will work, depending on the situation. Sometimes you’ll have to eliminate the trigger, sometimes you’ll have to replace the behaviour itself (or, rather, its object), and sometimes you’ll have to alter the outcome. No matter what the unhealthy habit you’re trying to get rid of might be, I guarantee at least one of the methods previously presented will work for you — just study your habit and then choose the right method(s).
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