We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ~ Aristotle
Ever wonder why we do the things we do? For example, we know that vegetables are healthy, so why do we reach for junk food? We know we could be more productive of we stopped checking messages every few minutes, but yet we keep on clicking that button. Why? It’s a habit.
Habits are formed when three things take place. There is a trigger, a loop (routine) and then a reward. The key to changing any habit is knowing what triggers that particular habit, what it is you actually do when that trigger takes place and what reward you get from completing that routine. Once you can identify those parts, you can change a bad habit into something good.
The habit trigger is not always easy to identify. It can be any number of things… a sight, a sound, a smell, something someone says to you, a certain time of day – anything! Once you figure out what triggers your habit, you can look for ways to avoid that trigger. But what if you can’t change the trigger?
If you can’t change the trigger, you’re still off to a good start. By identifying what sets off your routine, you at least have something to work with. Unavoidable triggers require re-writing your routine, which leads us to…
Usually, the part of the habit we really want to change is the loop or the routine. That’s typically when we are behaving in a way we really wish we didn’t. This doesn’t have to be difficult, but it will take conscious effort to work. Habits are so ingrained in our subconscious that we do them without thinking. Identifying the trigger will be crucial because you’re going to have to recognize the beginning of the loop to know what needs to change.
Sometimes you only need to change part of the loop. The best practice for changing the loop is to mentally walk yourself through it and visualize the change. Think about that often and whenever you are confronted with the trigger, pause and go through your new routine slowly until it becomes something you can do without thinking.
The reward you get is often the biggest driver for your habit. Rewards aren’t always tangible things we can see and touch. Oftentimes there is a chemical reaction in our brain that we learn to crave. It’s a lot like having an addiction where the brain feeds off of opiates the addictive substance provides.
Changing the reward can be tough. Especially if your reward is something like ice cream or procrastination or any number of things that don’t seem so bad on the surface, but may be holding us back from greatness.
For example, if you want to get in the habit of training for a marathon and you have a bad habit of coming home and crashing, you know the trigger is coming home. The routine is getting food and crashing on the couch. The reward is relaxation and or procrastination.
To resolve this, you can do any of the following:
1. Change the trigger so you go to the gym first (take your gym clothes with you so you don’t have to come home)
2. Change the routine – come home and immediately put on your running gear to shift your focus (sometimes that’s all you need to get your mind set on running)
3. Change the reward – create a way to reward yourself for each time you train or complete a series of trainings (make it something you REALLY want so you are motivated).
Habits don’t have to be big. They can be tiny things you don’t even realize you are doing… and small stuff adds up. Even the littlest change can have a huge impact. If you feel stuck in moving forward with your goals, start reviewing your habits. What small habits can you change to have a greater impact?
You can also use these principles to create brand new habits. Creating a new habit is not just doing something for 28 days straight. You have to engineer a trigger, a routine and a reward. That is how true habits are formed. Once you identify these three things, write them down and start implementing them to create your new habit. You may want to tweak them as you develop them until they feel natural and you begin to do them without thinking about them.
Have questions or need help with changing a habit? Leave your questions in the comments below and I’d be happy to help you!