How To Change A Habit? Dissect It

June 13, 2013

What habits are keeping you from your WANT? Identifying behaviors that are sabotaging your efforts – in detail – is a key step to making real change. So many times your change efforts fail because you don’t realize that you have to be more clear on why you do what you do and how the events play out as you take an action not in your best interest. But this is not how people try to change. You simply think, I’ll just stop doing that – only to end up beating yourself up because you did the same old thing again. The real danger here is that you think you’re a failure, but in reality you just skipped some very important steps in making change. Understanding the dominoes of how a habit plays out is crucial because you can intervene before they start to fall over. In this series of posts, I’ve already talked about finding the reminder for some habits you’d like to change using the perhaps New-Agey feeling but super effective technique of mindfulness. What triggers or reminders did you discover? Was it coming home at the end of a long day that triggers overeating or drinking alcohol? Is it a stressful conversation that makes you want a cookie? What triggers your bad ol’ habits?  And why does the reminder matter? The reminder is the first part in the habit loop (to learn more about the loop check out The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg). You can’t hope to change the habit, without getting clear on this first step. All habits have 3 parts: reminder, routine and reward. This loop creates cravings – you get reminded (aka triggered), you take an action  because you’re seeking the reward. The desire for this reward creates a craving and leaves you on a perpetual Ferris wheel of cravings with no hope of getting off. Since you’ve started to slow way, way down and see the reminders for your habits, let’s next watch routine that happens after the reminder. This is what you do, the action part of the habit.  Stopping by the wine store or the bakery on the way home. Grabbing fast food at lunch after a stressful meeting. Buying the muffin when you stop for your morning coffee.  And why we take this action is cuz we’re after the reward. Figuring out the reward of a habit is often the toughest part, but it’s key because it’s why you do the habit in the first place. It’s the promise of reward that drives you to do stuff not in the interest of your WANT. It’s interesting to note that you often don’t even need the reward to happen to fire up the desire for it, just the promise of it.  So you really have to have your wits about you to have a hope of changing it. An example of this is that you may think you’ll feel more calm, comforted and better after getting upset if you have a sweet treat. The reward you think you’re getting is comfort. Although after you eat it you feel stuffed, sleepy and really guilty that you caved to the temptation. You may even know that you won’t feel great after you indulge, but the promise of comfort – of feeling better than you do now – is enough to make you give in. Can you see where you have to really get this stuff? Understanding your habit loop: reminder, routine and reward is key to dropping bad dietary habits because it’s this loop the creates a craving.  The promise of the reward fires up your motivation center and soon all you can think about is getting that thing. You feel often helpless to stop it.  Breaking down habits into these parts makes them way easier to manage, but even then it can be tough which is where WILLpower comes in super handy (more on this soon, but read this now.) So ask yourself – what do I get out of this? It’s not often what you think.  For example, a habit I needed to break was always having a glass of wine after a long day of work.  I thought the reward was relaxation – but I realized the wine actually made my anxiety worse because I felt guilty about not sticking to my guns of not having it. It threw off my sleep and I felt puffy and tired the next day – which made me more stressed.  While I wanted relaxation, and I thought wine gave that to me, upon further inspection…um, not so much.  The real reward I got from the wine was freedom – I sometimes rail against dietary restrictions, even if I know they help me get my WANT. Now that you’re clear on the reminder, routine and reward simply re-work these into new, more supportive habits by changing just the routine. You will keep the reminder and the reward the same – research shows this is the best way to change a habit. But Dr Brooke, Isn’t This A Whole Lot of Work? Can’t I just try not to eat cookies? Let me ask you: how many times have you lots those 5 pounds (or more) only to have them creep back on? You’re not alone: 2/3 of women who lose weight on a diet gain it back and then some within 2 years. And it’s not because you’re a bad little dieter – it’s because diets don’t really change you. You will only create real change by taking a very honest look at how you got where you are, what it will take to get your WANT and a smart, methodical approach to hacking those habits.  Change does happen but it’s not always easy. Be the exception. This is powerful stuff! Now that understand why you’re doing things that aren’t serving you, you can start to unwind them, transform them and dare I say: change! Need a straight forward process to follow in order to change your habits? Well stay tuned, next week I’ll give you my 6 Step Process to Habit Change 🙂

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