The Power of Habits: Build Good Habits, Break Bad Habits
Habits play a prime role in shaping our lives and making us who we are as individuals. Habits are defined as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”(Habit, n.d.). As mentioned in the definition, they are actions that we do so regularly that they become encoded in our subconscious mind meaning, our conscious mind doesn’t have to work in order to do that action. Rather, we engage in that action during the day as a reaction to a certain stimulus, as a simple task to complete as part of our daily routine or to achieve some sort of pleasure. Many people don’t understand that forming habits are very powerful and it is the very thing “our brain clings on to at the exclusion of all else-even common sense”(“The Importance of”, n.d.).
According to a paper published by Duke University, “More than 40 percent of the actions you perform each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits. More than 40 percent of the actions you perform each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits.” Henceforth it is extremely important that the habits we form are good habits, and try to get rid of bad habits.
Habit Loop → How Habits Work
According to James Clear; the writer of the International Bestseller Atomic Habits, our habits are formed and proceed in the order of a habit loop. The habit loops consist of four stages:
It is a stimulus that triggers the brain to initiate behaviour. It is essentially the information that predicts our reward)
It is the motivational force behind every habit. It is important to note that we don’t crave the habit itself, rather we crave the change in state it delivers. For instance, in Atomic Habits, there is an example provided which states that one doesn’t crave smoking a cigarette, rather they crave the relief it provides. Similarly, we don’t crave switching on Netflix, but rather we crave the entertainment it provides.
It is the third step in the habit loop and is the actual habit we form which can take the form of a habit or action. Now, whether the response occurs or not will depend on the level of motivation of the person and the level of difficulty that is posed with that thought or action. “Your response also depends on your ability.” You will only form the habit if you are capable of doing it.
As a result, the response delivers the reward; the end goal of a habit. The reward serves two purposes:
- They Satisfy Us (ex. Food and water quench your thirst and hunger, and provide the energy needed to survive)
- They Teach Us (Rewards teach us what actions are worth remembering in the future. According to Clear, “Feelings of pleasure and disappointment are part of the brain’s feedback mechanism that helps your brain distinguish useful actions from useless ones. Rewards close the feedback loop and complete the habit cycle”) (Clear, 2018, p.49)
These four stages are running endlessly in your brain as your brain scans the environment, picks up on information, and records your response. Now, the key to building good habits and getting rid of bad habits can be explained through the ‘Four Laws of Behavior Change’.
Four Laws of Behaviour Change
The ‘Four Laws of Behaviour Change’ are a simple set of rules one can use to build better habits and allow for bad habits to wither away (Clear, 2018, p. 55).
Creating a Good Habit (Clear, 2018, p. 54)
When Creating a Good Habit, ask yourself these questions as they relate to the habit loop:
- Cue → How can I make it obvious?
- Craving → How can I make it attractive?
- Response → How can I make it easy?
- Reward → How can I make it satisfying?
Getting Rid of a Bad Habit (Clear, 2018, p. 54)
When trying to get rid of a bad habit, ask yourself these questions:
- Cue → How can I make it invisible?
- Craving → How can I make it unattractive?
- Response → How can I make it difficult?
- Reward → How can I make it unsatisfying?
These laws can be used no matter what challenge or obstacle comes your way. Please do give Atomic Habits by James Clear a read if you want to know more about the power of habits and gain insight on an easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones!
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