Updating Our Habits
This article is about habits and how making small changes to your daily routine can help new habits to be formed. This then eliminates the need for us to wait for ‘motivation’ to come along. Here’s why: A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. When approached correctly, habits will have enough motivation built into them which means you can complete all your SMART goals with less stress and angst.
In their book “I’ve Had It Up To Here” (2011), Gaynor Parkin and Sarah Boyd discovered how wellbeing helps us to build the resilience we need to bounce back from the stresses of life. The things we can do to help us achieve this is by keeping active, eating well, limiting coffee and alcohol, and having regular good quality sleep. We may already know this but – as we know too well – many of us find it difficult to actually do it.
Did you know that the ‘conscious brain’ likes to focus on just one problem at a time?
In order to reduce the mental load and ‘free up’ our mental capacity to attend to more important tasks, challenges and problems, the ‘conscious brain’ likes to direct tasks that can be automated to the ‘sub-conscious’ part of the brain – where habits are formed. A new habit formed today allows you to do more of what you want in the future as they allow our conscious brains to become more focused and think creatively.
In ‘Atomic Habits‘ (2018), James Clear found all habits proceed through a 4 step pattern which our brain runs through in the same order. Every. Single. Time.
This 4 step pattern is a ‘habit loop’, which is an endless cycle that runs every moment you are alive and only takes a split second to complete. It is continually scanning the environment, predicting what will happen next, trying out different responses, and learning from the results. We don’t even realize we are doing it.
The Phases of the Habit Loop:
A Cue triggers the brain to interpret and initiate a behavior.
Cravings are the motivational force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation or desire – without craving a change – we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but causes a change in your internal ‘state’. Cravings differ from person to person. For example, you do not crave a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides. It isn’t brushing your teeth that you crave, it is about having a clean mouth. It isn’t about wanting to turn on the TV, rather it is about Craving to be entertained.
However, we are not all motivated by the same cues, either. Most cues are meaningless until they are interpreted through our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. These interpretations provide us with ‘meaning’, which in turn changes the Cue into a craving.
The response is the actual habit you perform. It can either be a thought or an action. That is to say, how motivated you are and how much hassle the response will dictate whether the response will actually happen. If a response takes too much effort mentally or physically, then you just won’t do it.
Lastly, Rewards are the end result of every habit.
It is important to remember how –
The Cue is about noticing the Reward
The Craving is about wanting the Reward.
The Response is about obtaining the Reward.
Consequently, if the behavior is insufficient in any of these 4 steps then it will not become a habit
Eliminate the Cue and the habit will never start
Reduce the Craving and there won’t be enough motivation to act
Make the behavior Response difficult and you won’t be able to do it
If the Reward fails to satisfy your desire, then you will have no reason to do it again.
Without the first 3 steps, the behavior will not happen. Without all 4 steps, a behavior will not be repeated. In his book Atomic Habits (2018), James Clear develops a practical framework called The Four Laws of Behavior Change.
How to apply The Four Laws of Behavior Change
James Clear (2018) says we can use these Four Laws of Behavior Change to help us design good habits and, amazingly, eliminate the bad ones:
To Create a Good Habit, ask ‘How can I…?’
Make it obvious?
Make it attractive?
Make it easy?
Make it satisfying
To break a bad habit, you just invert them:
To Break a Bad Habit, ask ‘How can I…?’
Make it invisible?
Make it unattractive?
Make it difficult?
Make it unsatisfying?
Time to Apply it
If you have ever wondered “Why don’t I ever do what I say I’m going to do?” The answer may be found somewhere in these 4 Laws of Behavior Change. Remember, no matter what challenges you are facing, these 4 Laws of Behavior Change can be applied to shape and form the systems you put in place in your life and help you to tweak your habits so you can live your life with more motivation and less stress.
– Gillian Camilleri, General Counsellor and Addictions Counsellor (MNZAC)
To find out more about Gillian, check out her website: Wellbeing Counselling. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she is not currently seeing people face to face for counseling, unfortunately. She is, however, doing sessions via Skype, Zoom or phone. Email if you are interested at Well.Being@actrix.co.nz. You can also join her Facebook Group- Wellbeing Counselling, or see her profile on Talking Works.