Even if we don’t recognize it, all our daily actions are just a collection of habits that we have built over time. Literally everything from the way we brush our teeth, tie our shoe laces and the side of the bed we wake up on. We often overlook these activities as part of our daily living, never evoking from a scientific lens. Once habits are formed, our actions become autonomous and require minor conscious strength. Habits make us the people we are, they rule the type of lives we live and most importantly, they are a key factor when it comes to determining our fates.
Therefore, If we can identify the structure and mechanics of habits, we can then change our lives towards the direction of our respective purposes. We can break the shackles that hold our present selves in and liberate ourselves for growth in the future. We can take responsibility for our lives and steer the ship where our destinations are. Recently I came across an incredible book by Charles Duhigg called “The Power of Habit”. This incredible piece of literature concerns itself with the science of habits of people, businesses and in a grander scheme, our entire society. I highly recommend this book to anyone on the path to self-improvement. In the book Duhigg explains the habit loop, a flow chart on how habits function and how we can change them.
According to Duhigg, every habit consists of a Cue, Routine and a Reward. These three parts create what is known as the habit loop.
Every habit starts with a cue. Identifying the cue is the most important part when it comes to changing habits. For example, If someone has a habit of snacking on unhealthy snacks, they must identify what makes them gravitate towards this routine. For some people this might be having unhealthy food in sight, or getting bored, or even watching television. Everyone has different cues for different habits. In order to change unhealthy habits, the cue must first be identified. So identify the signal that makes you snack, smoke, or whatever habit you are trying to change.
The next step is identifying the reward you get from the routine of the habit. Analyzing the aforementioned habit of snacking on unhealthy foods, we can see that the reward from this activity is the “high” or pleasure produced from the taste of the snack. Identifying the reward allows us to see what we actually crave from our habits. It also makes it easier for us to change our habits if we can identify the reward. Observing these patterns of cues and rewards will ultimately help us change our routine.
This is the part of the habit that we are trying to change. This is the snacking, the smoking, the biting nails part. Once the cue and reward of this routine is identified, it is necessary that another healthier routine is put into action that provides the same reward. For example, Once we get the urge to smoke (cue) if we are looking for a “high” from cigarettes, we can replace the act of smoking (the routine) with something healthier such as exercising, hence creating the same reward of feeling a “high”.
Here is a rough illustration of how this happens:
Through this understanding, bad habits can be replaced with habits that can really add value to our lives. Taking responsibility for our daily habits help us drive towards our long-term goals and purpose.
These concepts can be further explored in depth in “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.