Habits and Change

Introduction to Habits

Ever feel like your life is on autopilot? Feel stuck, creative block, or like everyone else is passing you by?

Perhaps it’s the habits in your life. Those small efforts over time add up. Good or bad. Let’s dive into how they are formed.

The Habit Loop

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, describes building habits as a three-step process:

First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future…

Duhigg calls this The Habit Loop. Over time, he says, this loop becomes more and more automatic.

Habits are our brain’s way of being more efficient.

As with everything, it’s a balancing act. Our brains have the tendency to put our routine on autopilot. By ignoring the routine or having a blind spot to it, we may not see bad habits holding us back.

It’s the perfect case for practicing mindfulness.

Changing Habits with Mindfulness

But what is mindfulness? In The Confidence Gap, Russ Harris defines it as:

Mindfulness is a mental state of awareness, openness, and focus. When we are mindful, we are able to engage fully in what we are doing, let go of unhelpful thoughts, and act effectively without being pushed around by our emotions.

By practicing mindfulness and self-awareness, we can pinpoint areas of our lives that we would like to improve. Including changing our habits. Those automatic, mindless tasks that we do. It’s just how we are wired. But by changing the routine, we can change the habit. The cue or trigger that sets off the habit may stay the same. But if we change the routine, we can change the habit.

For example, the cue is boredom, the routine is mindless eating, and the reward is a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction from eating / not being bored. To change the habit, notice the cue of boredom, change the routine to listen to an audiobook, and the reward may still be a sense of accomplishment. To notice the cue, it takes being mindful.

A great way to identify the cue is to journal. Keep a small notebook with you at all times. When you sense being bored, write it down. If you catch yourself mindlessly eating, write it down. If spending is an issue, write down every dollar you spend. Over time, you will notice patterns emerging.

Those routines can create good or bad habits over time. Be mindful to which you are creating.