Using the Habit Loop to Control Your Life
Why are habits so powerful.
How could we tap into that power to create the life we want? Well, think about it like this. Your life is essentially the sum of your habits.
You spend about 40% of your day performing habitual behaviors, meaning, these aren’t actions you consciously think about, they’re hardwired into your biological computer, or your brain.
We all have good and bad habits. Most of us have some habits that we really want to quit, but can’t seem to break them no matter how hard we try.
Here’s a tip. Stop relying on willpower! Willpower is an amazing resource, but like most resources, it will run out.
At the start of each day, you have a full tank of willpower, use it sparingly. So if we can’t rely on willpower, what do we do?
The Habit Loop (The Formula)
Well first, let me break down how habits work. The formula if you will.
We see some food that looks good and our brain says, “CALORIES. SURVIVAL!”
We eat the food, it tastes good. Your brain remembers what you’re eating and where you found it. It associated that food (or action) with the good feeling that dopamine releases.
Simplified: See food. Eat Food. Feel good. Repeat. OR Cue. Behavior. Reward. This formula allows you the tap into your habits and gain complete control of them. Check it out…
- The cue (which is the trigger) happens when you get that tired feeling around 2 pm.
The Behavior is, you get up, walk to the kitchen, make a cup of coffee, and drink it.
The Reward is, you get a short-term jolt of energy for the next 30 or 40 minutes that makes you happy.
How To Break A Bad Habit
In order to break a habit, you need to need to change the behavior. This is where you need to experiment and find what works for you.
So the first step is being aware of your habits and realizing which step is occurring throughout your day. Start to notice this and prepare for a change.
When you feel the cue hit you around 2:00 PM at the office, realize what is happening. Listen to your body and what it is craving so you can be mindful of what the cue is.
Once you have figured out the cue, channel some willpower towards changing it. Get a glass of water and walk around for a few minutes to get the blood flowing again. If that is too hard, maybe go for some green tea instead.
Work on changing your behavior until it becomes a habit! It won’t take long since you already have the cue and the reward.
That’s the formula and how you can reverse engineer the habit loop to break a habit, but what if you want to implement a new habit into your life?
How Do You Create a New Habit?
Alright, so we know how to break a habit and you are going to start on that today or tomorrow.
Pick one that seems reasonably easy to break to start off. Go through the steps and commit to breaking it for good.
Now you want to start hitting the gym more.
You want to work on your side business for 3 hours a day after work.
You want to spend more time with your family.
You want to start cooking every week.
What do you do?
I am going to bring back the habit loop here. So, Instead of changing the behavior, you need to find a cue. The best way for me to demonstrate this is through one of my own examples.
A few years ago I was struggling with going to the gym early in the morning on a consistent basis. This is what I did to create a cue and set in motion an awesome new habit.
My cue was music. I love music and find that it changes my mood and mindset very quickly. So, I used this to my advantage by switching my alarm from the boring default songs to my favorite motivational songs at the time. This would act as the little nudge to get me out of bed.
I would set up a short motivational video on my phone so that as soon as I woke up, I could click play and get motivated for the day and for the workout. Typically, no longer than a 3 minutes video.
I set my workout clothes out the night before to reduce effort and eliminate decision making. All I had to do was get up, drink a glass of water, throw on my clothes, eat a quick breakfast, and walk out the door.
Instead of making a gourmet breakfast, I would just eat yogurt and fruit, oatmeal or a smoothie; something quick that gave me what I needed for the workout. Sometimes I would cook a couple eggs since this usually only takes about 5 minutes.
Once I got to the gym I had a routine. I would do some form of cardio for 5 minutes, stretch/get warmed up for 2 minutes, then begin my predetermined workout routine for that day. Make sure you do the same general routine every time.
Even If I was tired, in a bad mood, had a lot on my mind, or stressed, about 15 minutes into my workout my mood completely changed (I’m sure you have experienced this before). You say to yourself, “oh yeah, that’s why I come to the gym.”
My reward was the feeling I would get during and after the workout, the way I looked in the mirror, the awesome breakfast I would eat afterward, and the guilt-free time I would have after work to do whatever I wanted (work on my business).
I set a goal for 3 weeks. If I could just do this for 5 days a week for 3 weeks no matter what, I could solidify it as a habit. After that, it was so much easier! I look forward to it every morning because now I am seeing results, I feel better and have more energy. Although the first and second weeks were fairly difficult, my body started to get used to waking up that early so it became easier every day.
Cue: Motivational Music
Routine: Clothes, quick breakfast, cardio, stretch/warm up, workout.
Reward: The feeling I would get during and after the workout, the way I looked in the mirror, the awesome breakfast I would eat after my work out every morning, and the guilt-free time I would have after work to do with it what I wanted. Also…. making it one step closer to my goal!
Sure enough, it slowly became a habit and now I easily wake up every morning excited to hit the gym and get that high from my workout. That feeling of “so this is why I go to the gym” that we all get).
So, remember this formula and be conscious of when each step is occurring. Once you learn how to manipulate this loop to your advantage, you will be able to live your life by design.
Resource: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
Q. What habit has made the largest impact on your life? What is your worst habit you are going to quit, using the formula? Leave a comment.