Psychology and Spirituality

The Anatomy of Habits – Becoming aware

The basics behind habits are simple, as illustrated in the brilliant book “The power of habit – Why we do what we do and how to change” by Charles Duhigg,
There are three parts:
1) You have a cue – something that starts your routine or habit. It might be the time of the day, boredom, hunger, nervousness, the place you’re at, the people you are with, the activity you are doing.

2) The routine goes on automatically, without you needing to think about it. Maybe you’re a bit hungry a couple of hours before lunch, so you have developed a habit of eating a doughnut at 10 am every day at work. The habit might become so ingrained that you don’t even listen for the hunger cue anymore, you just go for the doughnut at ten o’clock. During the weekends, while being at home, you might not even think about donuts.

3) In the end there’s the reward – the result of your routine that gives you a boost of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, that will make you feel good, in your brain. Might be the sugar in the doughnut or the little pause in your work that gives you the boost. This reward is what keeps the habit going you start wanting those boosts of happiness.

As the habit establishes and becomes more automated you start getting a reward response just by seeing the time. “Soon it’s time for my doughnut.” And there you have a craving, the knowledge of what’s to come.
The good news is that you can change your habits, just as you established them. You need to find out what your routine, cue and award is. So the first step to understand your habit is to figure out what it is.
Maybe you get stuck in front of the computer, surfing meaningless sites on the internet when you come home from work. Maybe you actually want to go to the gym and do a work out, but every night you seem to run out of time? And every night you think, tomorrow is the day when I go to the gym.
So it might be that when you come home you have developed a habit of starting your computer to check out the latest news on facebook and on your email before cooking your dinner, just to keep on track. And every day the time in front of the computer has increased and you quickly loose track of what you actually meant to do when you started the machine. That’s the routine.

Now to the reward, coming home from work. You might be tired, feeling restless and not really up to doing anything and you feel a satisfaction with sitting down in front of the computer and catch up with a friend or two, write some e-mails, check out the latest YouTube clips or read a blog. You feel like you’ve accomplished something.

When you’ve figured out these two components you need to figure out what the cue for your behavior is. What is it that starts the routine?
Is it the coming home from work? Being tired? The time of the day? You being alone? Figure out what triggers your habit. Charles Duhigg recommends writing down at what time, place, emotional setting you are as well which other people that are around you and what action you we’re doing just before the urge to do your routine started.

By identifying these steps and understanding what triggers you and what the reward is, you can start changing your routine. If it’s coming home or being tired that triggers your behavior you might go to the gym directly from work. If it’s you being alone you might make a phone call to a friend or family member and talk to them while preparing dinner and then maybe hit the gym. If it’s the time of day you might look up the things you want on the computer during lunch, when you have limited amount of time. There are many ways of doing this. There is no universal recipe, since the habits varies from person to person and how to change different habits might vary for the same person.

What is sure is that you need to become aware. You need to start looking at your self and the habits that you want to change with the mindset of an explorer or a scientist. Be curious and don’t judge your self, all of us have habits, good and bad ones. Becoming aware of what triggers your behavior and how you react to different cues is the first step of taking control of your life and a starting point to become more mindful.

The best part is that changing one habit is contagious. Once you’ve successfully changed one, you will become more aware of others and also more confident in making the changes!


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