Have you ever thought about if you control your habits or if your habits control you?
You are a result of the sum total of your habits both good and bad.
Researchers at Duke University assert that habits account for 40% of your behavior of any given day. What this means is that 40% of everything you do is a result of a habit you formed both good or bad. How fit and healthy you are is a result of your habits. How successful you are is a result of your habits. Your degree of happiness and unhappiness is a result of your habits.
Have you ever noticed the daily habits you have without thinking? Putting your shoes on the left foot first each day. Tying your shoelaces. Brushing your teeth before bed. Driving the same route to work without thinking about it. Drinking coffee the same time each day in the same order of getting ready for work. Slipping into comfortable clothes when you get home from work. Innocuous habits that have formed over a period of years.
What about the habits you are unaware of like shouting at the kids, complaining about others at work, criticizing your spouse, smoking and drinking too much. Habits that are either detrimental to your health or relationships.
You are what you repeatedly do on a daily basis. The good news is, if you can form a habit, you can also change a habit if it no longer serves you well.
Before you look to change a bad habit, consider how habits are formed.
The four stages of forming a habit
Habits, when repeated are triggered by a cue which turns into a craving to which you respond to gain a reward (take away the pain or give pleasure). It’s your internal desire to maintain balance (homeostasis) that kicks into play.
Homeostasis is a self-regulating process that maintains equilibrium. When you experience massive pain, you take action (your habit) to eliminate the pain. Equally, when you seek pleasure, you are motivated to take action (your habit) to gain a pleasurable reward. If the pain or pleasure (reward) is not significant enough, you won’t be motivated to form a habit when presented with a cue as it won’t trigger a craving.
The Cue or Trigger
Firstly, comes a cue. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a certain behavior. For example, you pass a chocolate store, and this initiates a craving for chocolate. The cue indicates you are close to a reward. You respond by going to the store and buying chocolate. Eating the chocolate is your reward which takes away the craving. The chocolate store is the cue.
If you are cold you begin to shiver, this triggers a need to get warm. Shivering is the cue. Once you warm up the body is satisfied because it’s gone back to equilibrium (homeostasis). If you are hot and begin to sweat, this triggers a need to cool down. Sweating is the cue. Once you have cooled down, the body is satisfied because you are now back in balance (homeostasis).
The cue triggers a craving which is the second step of the habit loop. The craving is the motivation behind the habit. Unless the cue triggers a craving, you have no need to act. You don’t crave the habit, you crave the reward the habit gives you (which is to eliminate pain or gain the pleasure of a reward).
A craving is not the same for all people. Chocoholics crave chocolate whereas others might not like chocolate at all. Smokers don’t crave a cigarette, they crave the feeling it gives them when they inhale. These cravings are linked to homeostasis – the desire to change your internal state and bring you back to balance once the craving is satisfied.
The third stage of the habit loop is your response to the cue culminating in performing the actual habit itself. The habit can be in the form of a thought you have or an action you take. This is where homeostasis kicks in. If the cue triggers a craving (eliminate pain or gain reward) you will take whatever action you need to reward yourself or eliminate the craving.
Repeated over a period of time – this behavior forms a habit.
The reward satisfies the craving. Going to the gym and eating healthy food improves your health (the reward). Getting promoted brings with it more prestige and money (the reward). Watching television reduces stress as you are rewarded by being entertained. Smoking a cigarette and the feeling it gives you is the reward. Having a drink which makes you feel relaxed is the reward.
If there is enough reward from acting on the cue and the craving, you will take action. The brain is a reward detector, it will remember the cue, the craving and your response and if repeated frequently enough, it will become a habit. If the reward itself is not worth the effort, you won’t take act on the cue or trigger the craving.
The four stages put together
Your boss wants to see you in the morning.
You feel stressed you are going to be fired.
You drink a bottle of wine or eat a big box of chocolate.
Your craving to reduce stress is satisfied. Stress creates a habit of drinking or binge eating.
Your friend didn’t answer your text.
You want to relieve your frustration.
You check your phone and go on Facebook.
You satisfy your craving to feel wanted. Social Media gives you an escape from the real world.
Your alarm goes off in the morning.
You still feel tired and need to feel more alert.
You make some coffee drink it before showering and getting dressed.
Your craving to become fully awake is satisfied. Your alarm is the cue to make coffee first thing in the morning.
Its pay day.
You want to look and feel good.
You go shopping and buy a new outfit and shoes.
Your craving to feel good is satisfied. Having money in the bank becomes associated with shopping.
To change a habit
To change a habit, if you eliminate the cue, you won’t find yourself in the habit loop. If you reduce the craving you won’t be motivated to respond. If you make the action difficult then it will become too hard to follow through on the behavior. If the reward fails to satisfy the craving, you won’t be motivated to repeat the behavior.
If you find yourself watching too much television, set a timer for it to go off at a certain time of night. It forces you to not search for something to watch for the sake of it.
If you find yourself on social media too much, turn your phone off or give it to a co-worker so you don’t constantly look at it.
If as a family you don’t seem to talk because everyone is on their phone, put all the phones in a basket and leave the basket in another room. This provides time for families to talk uninterrupted.
Changing a small thing like a cue can lead to a massive change in habits.
On a final note
The four steps that make up a continuous feedback loop are: Cue – Craving – Response – Reward. Simplistically, the cue triggers a craving. The craving motivates a response. If you take action it satisfies the craving which is the reward. Don’t let your habits control you.
Watch your habits for they become your character.
In a Nutshell
- You are a result of the sum total of your habits.
- Researchers at Duke University assert that habits account for 40% of your behavior of any given day.
- Habits, when repeated are triggered by a cue which turns into a craving to which you respond to gain a reward (take away the pain or give pleasure).
- Homeostasis is a self-regulating process that maintains equilibrium.
- When you experience massive pain, you take action (your habit) to eliminate the pain.
- When you seek pleasure, you are motivated to take action (your habit) to gain a pleasurable reward.
- The cue triggers a craving which is the second step of the habit loop.
- The craving is the motivation behind the habit.
- The third stage of the habit loop is your response to the cue culminating in performing the actual habit itself.
- The fourth stage of forming a habit is the reward. The reward satisfies the craving.
- To change a habit, if you eliminate the cue, you won’t find yourself in the habit loop.