We’ve all got ‘em. Some good — most naughty. The question is – what are yours?
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of reading the same old useless “10 Steps to a Better You” puff piece compost on NYE resolutions. 90% are nothing more than recycled content and “rally the troupes” motivational quotes.
Want to know how to really break those dirty little guilt-ridden habits lurking in the back of your mind and negatively influencing your quality of life?
I present to you: Psychology, my dear Watson.
Behold the all-powerful habit as defined by the American Journal of Psychology as “…a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.” A habit is something which is literally ingrained in our neural pathways and neuroscientists have traced such behaviors back to a specific part of our brain called the basal ganglia.
According to studies conducted by famed psychologist Wendy Wood, it turns out that a whopping 45% of the decisions which we make in life are actually not decisions at all but – that’s right – habits.
So how do we break them?
Redefining the habit loop
The habit loop is a term which comprises the three stages of habit formation and the very thing that companies from Target to Amex analyze to catch you hook, line and sinker. The stages are as follows:
- the cue (aka trigger)
- the routine (aka response)
- the reward.
Psychologists say the “golden rule” of habit change is keeping both the cue and the reward the same, when you change the behavior. But that’s not all – they also advise individuals to do their research before jumping to conclusions about their habits.
For example, let’s say every day at around 3:15PM, you go to your building’s cafeteria and get a cookie. During this time, you usually mingle with coworkers for a bit and then return to your desk at around 3:30PM. However, you want to break this habit because these daily noms are doing some serious damage to your future summer bod.
Well psychologists would suggest that before you go about switching up your routine, make sure you are fully aware of what reward it is that your mind is actually benefiting from — because it may not be the cookie or [insert vice] after all.
What I did for a couple of days was every time I felt the cookie urge…it became clear that I was cued by certain time of day, around 3:15 to 3:45…I needed to figure out the reward. It’s easy to say it was the cookie itself, but I ran experiments. One time I took a walk around block. Or instead of the cookie, I’d have an apple or a cup of water. But each time, I would talk to my colleagues and I would socialize, and then … it became clear that it was the socializing and not the cookie that really was important. As long as I socialized, the cookie urge would go away and if I didn’t socialize, it didn’t matter what I ate.
So now I look around for someone to go and gossip with and I do that for 10 minutes and I don’t have the cookie urge anymore.
Psychologists also say one of the best ways to form new habits is to set reminders for ourselves and use them as “cues” or “triggers” to remind us to complete a desired task and check out the three R’s of Habit Change.
For instance, if your goal is to meditate at least 10 minutes each day, you should set a phone alarm as a trigger, or make a list of tasks which you are guaranteed to do every single day, habitually (i.e. making your morning cup of coffee) and pin one as your “trigger” to complete your task.
So tell yourself that every morning right after you make your cup of coffee that you are going to meditate for 10 minutes. Try to make the process as easy as pie by going out of your way to make it ridiculously difficult to ignore. Leave your iPod and headphones next to your coffee machine and place a bowl of [insert favorite candy] as your reward stimulus.
Every morning, wake up, make your coffee (trigger), grab your headphones, crank those binaural beats for a nice little meditation session and when you’re finished – eat a piece of chocolate (reward). This is one of the most surefire strategies to forming new habits/breaking old ones.