Building and Breaking Habits (EN)

Habits are behaviours that we perform on a regular basis. Such behaviours require repetition to form and are at least somewhat automatic, making building and breaking habits a challenge.

thechangehub

2021-04-27 3 min read

Sometimes we all wish that our lives ran on autopilot, speeding past the daily chores we have to push through. Luckily, the brain is equipped to do just that through the power of habit. 

What is a habit? 

Habits are repeated actions that we perform regularly, at times even unconsciously, acquired through frequent repetition. Research shows that these actions make up to 40% of our everyday behaviour. 

As James Clear mentions in his book, "Atomic Habits", our current state is nothing more than the sum of our habits. The things we do repeatedly make us who we are, shaping our beliefs, personalities and even the way we view ourselves. 

"When you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life."

How do habits work?

Habits form as four aspects come together: a cue (also known as a trigger), a craving, a response and a reward. 

Cue

The cue is something that triggers your brain to initiate a behaviour. These cues can be a time of day, a location, an emotional state or even other people.

Craving

Cravings represent the second step of the habit loop and are the driving force that motivates you to act. We don't crave actions but rather the feeling that arises after it happens. 

Response

The response is the act of performing the habit itself. It's what you do to soothe the craving. However, responses only occur if you are motivated enough or if you have the ability to perform the task. 

Reward

In the end, comes the reward, which serves two purposes. The first one is to satisfy the craving, why you acted in the first place. The second is to teach us whether the effort is worth going through for the reward. 

How do Habits Form?

Habits can only be formed when the conditions are just right: all four of the aspects mentioned above have to be at an all-time high. 

Our brains are constantly on the lookout for cues, as they are proof that rewards are near. These further lead to cravings, which are heavily influenced by our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Then, we respond to the craving, which delivers a reward. The reward is subconsciously evaluated, and if the effort is worth the gain, then, through repetition, it becomes a habit. 

How to Build New Habits

Understanding how habits work and using these aspects to our advantage makes building them the simple task that it should be. Targeting each aspect will make it easy for you to follow through with new habits. 

Cue: Make the trigger as obvious as you can. This way, your mind will subconsciously pick up on the cue more frequently. 

Craving: Make the reward more attractive: use your motivation to carry you through the task.

Response: Make the task easy to accomplish. Don't force yourself to do something extremely challenging from the very first time. Instead, take it slowly. 

Reward: Make the reward more satisfying. One way to do this is by adding to long-term rewards other short-term ones. (Habits and productivity are very closely related. Check out our first blog post, Productivity and Procrastination, where we talked about making the rewards more immediate.)

How to Break Bad Habits

All of us have, at some point, struggled with habits we wish we didn't have, be it biting our nails or binge eating in front of the TV. Breaking habits follows a similar strategy: just reverse what you would do to build new ones. Make the cues invisible, unattractive, difficult to do and unsatisfying. 

The key to success when it comes to habits is doing things mindfully and intentionally, whichever aspect of habit-building you may struggle with. Recognise the cues, cravings, responses and rewards and then make your choices consciously, whether that means creating or breaking a habit. 

Sources & Recommended Further Reading:

"Atomic Habits" - James Clear

https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change

https://markmanson.net/downloads/habits-ebook

https://hbr.org/2019/12/how-to-break-up-with-your-bad-habits

https://www.npr.org/2012/03/05/147192599/habits-how-they-form-and-how-to-break-them?t=1619507411322

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