Getting your habits in order

04. June, 2020 3 min read Study

How our habits work

Habits shape us, our lives are affected by them every day. Most people don‘t even recognise the intricate balance they hold over our daily routines. Have you ever considered that your morning coffee is actually not a choice, but rather a habit that enslaves you to pick up a cup in the morning and pour in hot, black, liquid fluid?

These behaviours are encoded inside our basal ganglia, an area which is found deep within the cerebral hemispheres of our brain. This is where our habits, good or bad, are formed and retrieved.

Change is hard

A lot of actions that we do intuitively are automatic, habitual behaviours. Our brain switches to autopilot and doesn‘t need to think. This preserves several finite mental resources such as willpower. Willpower plays a key role in our daily driver of getting things done.

Formed habits do not draw from that pool. This is why it is sometimes so hard to change bad behaviours. You lack the will (power) thereof.

In our example, this vicious cycle starts with a cue triggered from your morning routine rewarding you with the first accomplishment of the day — a coffee.

Cue, routine and reward

To grasp the basic concept of this circle, we need to analyse the underlying psychological patterns to be able to influence and ultimately, assert control over our habits.

Cue: The cue is the first step in this process. You can identify the cue through 5 signals:

  • Where you were ing the cue is the most difficult puzzle to solve. Besides the mentioned 5 signals, you c
  • What time it was
  • The emotional state you were in
  • The social connection around you
  • What preceded the cue before the habit emerged

Let‘s apply our coffee example to these signals; The cue occurred in the morning, at the time you woke up. You were tired, your partner still in bed and eager to start your day.

Routine: The routine is normally easily identifiable. This is the process you fall into day by day. In our above example, it‘s the process of waking up, getting your motors running.

Reward: That‘s the craving that needs to be satisfied. It is imperative to identify the reward before you are able to change your habit. In relation to our example, the reward can be the fresh taste of coffee in the morning or the effect it has throughout your day.

Improve, one step at a time

Identifying the cue is the most difficult puzzle to solve. Besides the mentioned 5 signals, you can analyse the routine you are trapped in or figure out what the reward is.