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Linda, a young stay-at-home mother, spends most of her free time on social media. She takes several selfies daily and uploads the “good” ones to Facebook. Her average number of photo uploads per week is 40. She starts her day checking Facebook for any new likes or comments. Once an avid reader, Linda has not touched any of her books in the past few months. One day, looking at her bookshelf, she sighed! “How can I get back to my reading habit?” How can Linda replace the bad habit of spending too much time on Facebook with reading? Hmm. For that, she needs to identify the Bad Habit Triggers that hold her to be in this social media trap.
In the best-selling book “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg explains about Habit Loop.
Charles Duhigg describes in the book about the research done in the 1990’s at the MIT Brain and Cognitive Science Department on rats.
Using a simple T-shaped maze with a chocolate reward at the left end of the T, the rats had brain activity monitored as they repeatedly finished the maze. At first, the brain was stimulated all over as the rats processed sensory information exploring. After repeated attempts, the brain activity diminished dramatically until not even the memory centers of the brain were needed to find the food. After that, only the part of the brain controlling automatic behaviors, basal ganglia was active.
Habit is on autopilot
Do you remember how complex was driving initially for you? But now, after years of daily driving, most of your driving has become automatic right? How? Daily repeated behaviors, including those, require complex brain power to master, eventually become controlled by basal ganglia. Means, the rest of the brain is freed up! That’s the brain’s way of being highly efficient! This automation is the basis of habit formation.
For the brain to know when to allow the basal ganglia to take over with a habit, a three-step loop occurs.
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The first step is the Trigger or Reminder or Cue.
In the case of the rats, this was a clicking sound right before the maze door opened. The Trigger tells the brain not only that it is time to invoke the habit, but also which one is appropriate.
The second part of the habit loop is the routine.
Upon the habit formation, the action is entirely controlled by the basal ganglia.
The final part of the loop is the reward.
In the case of the rats, the reward was a piece of chocolate.
When you practice a process more, it becomes more automatic. The trigger gets deeply connected with the reward, thus creating a powerful craving for reward.
These three phases of Habit loop are also known as the 3 R’s of Habit.
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Once a Habit is developed, it runs on autopilot. The ingrained habit does not require constant focus.
You can also listen to Charles Dehuigg talking about habit loop in this short video.
Check out the book ‘The Power of Habit’ in amazon through below link.
You will be successful in breaking a bad habit if you first identify the bad habit triggers and then try to eliminate it.
I will look into the bad habit triggers in a minute. Have you already chosen the bad habit you want to eliminate?
You can read the strategies required to prepare for a habit change discussed in the post Stopping Bad Habits.
Choose one Bad Habit
Be honest, we all have many bad habits. It could be minor things like drinking too many cups of coffee or visiting film gossip sites or plucking nails. It could be even painful ones that impact you and your family like drinking alcohol, smoking or binge-eating.
First and foremost step in laying the foundation for a habit change is to create a log of all your bad habits.
Next, ask yourself the following questions about each habit.
- Why do I want to get rid of this habit?
- What are the benefits I get of eliminating this habit?
- How often do I perform this habit?
You can even ask your close ones to get a list of your bad habits. They can help you to get an idea of your bad behaviors which may be annoying to others without your knowledge.
Pick that bad habit eliminating which would bring maximum benefit to you.
Now, Fix a Start Date on which you will launch the habit change process.
Just before looking into the bad habit triggers, I want you to ask yourself an important question before getting into changing any habit.
The question is: “Am I ready to get rid of this habit?”
Do you think it is not realistically possible to get rid of the habit now? Choose another one or not get into the habit change process now.
Your confidence and full commitment to the habit change is crucial to your success.
I assume you already have a planned start date for habit change. Now, your job is to understand your bad habit better.
Have you seen the starter pistol at the beginning of a race? It lets the runners know that it’s time to move.
Same way, the trigger is the event that initiates a habit.
So to identify the bad habit triggers ask yourself these five questions when you have the urge for your bad habit.
Record your answers to these questions.
Repeat this process for a couple of weeks to fully understand the bad habit triggers.
I suggest you do this process before you start the habit change process.
1. How am I feeling now?
What are you thinking or feeling just when you need to get into the negative behavior? Are you feeling stressed out or depressed or annoyed or bored? Note them down.
Emotions are one of the most common triggers for bad habits.
Whenever I feel sleepy, I get a cup of Tea.
When you feel sad, you eat chocolate.
Are you spending most of your free time in front of the TV? It could be because of your boredom.
Paying attention to your emotions and being aware of them is an excellent skill to have. Being conscious of your emotions is not only going to help you build habits, but will improve your overall life experience. After all, we are all emotional beings! Emotions drive us!
2. What was the previous event?
Many of your habits are in response to some other activities. What did you just do? What are you doing now?
Write down the previous event or action every time you had the wish to do the negative behavior.
Once your phone beeps, you can’t stop thinking about checking the message that arrived. You end up checking it!
When a Facebook notification pops up, you click to check the latest message.
Stacking a new habit with an old habit is an excellent strategy to build new habits.
You can read about creating new habits through habit stacking.
3. Who are the people around you?
I am sure you won’t be surprised about the impact of people around you on you and your habits. Many of the bad habits you have like drinking, smoking, unhealthy eating and so on, you might have acquired from your friends.
Your colleagues like to eat lunch from fast-food restaurants, so you eat fast-foods.
Every time, you go out with your friends, you consume a drink. You may not be craving for a drink.
Your bad habit could be a response to the people around you. Note them down.
4. What time is now?
Write down the exact time when you felt the urge.
Time is possibly the most common trigger for a habit. If you notice, you repeat many tasks daily at certain times carelessly.
You wake up at a particular time.
Don’t you take tea or smoking breaks at a fixed time every day?
Do you check social media at the same time in the morning?
In most of the cases, it is important to understand how you were feeling at that point. That’s why I mentioned emotional state as the first trigger.
5. Where are you?
Note down the location whenever you have an urge for the bad habit.
You are in a soft-drink bar, and notice Coco-Cola bottles, and you order Coca-Cola.
On seeing the Lays packet in the kitchen, you eat the Lays.
The environment is a leading bad habit trigger. You can get rid of many of bad habits by changing your environment.
Look at Johnson’s experience of studying on his sofa.
During the initial days of study leave, Johnson studied while lying on the couch. Sooner, he would fall asleep, no matter how much sleep or rest he‘d had. After a week, Johnson decided to change his position. Later, He studied at his desk. This change of position brought dramatic changes! He could finish his studies faster.
Like Johnson, we would have developed some powerful connections to our environment.
Sofas are for relaxing. Beds are for sleeping. Desks are for studying or working.
Identifying whether the location is your bad habit trigger is possible only by taking a note of the environment. It is usually difficult to attach a new meaning to an existing environment. Behavior Change will be far easier if you can shift it to a more favorable environment. That’s what Johnson did!
Keep on recording these five triggers – emotions, people, time, location, events – for at least a week. You will be able to identify a consistent pattern of bad habit triggers which pull you to be in the habit loop.
What could be Linda’s bad habit triggers?
Once Linda’s kids go to school, she feels lonely and bored. That makes her take selfies and post to Facebook. Facebook Notifications urge her to check the latest updates on Facebook. She feels anxious upon receiving the notification. Her friends on Facebook who respond to her posts keep her active on the Facebook. Major bad habit triggers are her boredom and Facebook notifications.
Bad Habit Triggers are important tools for stimulating our brains and bodies to involve in the negative behavior.
Once you are aware of your bad habit triggers, and the reward you get from the habit. You can replace the routine with a new better habit.
I will discuss more helpful tips in replacing a negative behavior with a new positive one in coming days. Do you know about your bad habit triggers? How did it help you in your habit change? Please do share, through comments.
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