Change (or create) any habit by following these four steps.
This is the complete framework for changing and creating new habits.
By following this method, you could change all of your bad habits such as drinking too much coffee, eating cookies, or anything else negative in your life.
As it’s impossible to truly extinguish a habit, we will not talk about “breaking” habits. Instead, we will discuss how to change them. And yes, you can change any habit that you want.
These four steps have been designed to change a habit. With small modifications to step 2, you can also create a new habit.
There is no single universal framework that explains how to create new habits. Instead, there are many possible frameworks. Charles Duhigg suggests a framework that can help us understand how habits work and experiment with how they might change.
Step 1: Identify the routine.
For most habits, the routine is the most obvious aspect. It’s the behavior you want to change. But keep in mind that the routine might be either mental or emotional.
Step 2: Experiment with rewards.
For the next three weeks, start thinking of yourself as a scientist. Use this mindset to identify your cravings. Don’t think about changing anything yet; this is only an experiment.
- Every time you feel the urge to grab a treat food such as chocolate, adjust your routine so it delivers a different reward.
For example, instead of grabbing a treat food, pick up an apple, take a walk, or maybe go find a friend for a short chat. This allows you to test different hypotheses to determine what type of craving is driving your routine.
- After each routine, write down three things that are on your mind. It can be thoughts, emotions—anything.
This forces a momentary awareness of what you are thinking and feeling.
- Then, set an alarm for every 15 minutes on your watch or computer. When it goes off, ask yourself: Do I still feel the urge for that chocolate? Write down three things that are on your mind.
The reason for the 15 minute reminders is to find out whether you still crave the reward. If you ate a donut, and you still feel the craving, that means that the sugar spike is not your reward.
- At the end of your experiment, analyze your notes.
When you replace the routine enough times, you will have enough information to determine the craving and the reward. When you can identify the craving, you are ready to change the habit.
Step 3: Isolate the cue.
Identifying the cue is difficult because there is so much information bombarding us as our behaviors unfold. For example, you cannot be sure that you eat breakfast because you’re hungry. The cue could be completely different.
Almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories:
- Location - Where are you?
- Time - What time is it?
- Emotional state - What’s your emotional state?
- Other people - Who else is around?
- Immediately preceding action - What action preceded the urge?
- For the next three days, ask yourself the above questions to determine the cue for your habit.
After three days, you should be able to identify the cue.
Step 4: Have a plan.
The last step is to make a plan and set your intentions to implement it.
Your plan will have only one sentence in the following form: “When I am fatigued at work, I will go out and take a walk.”
- Make a plan of action.
“When the cue happens, I will do this routine.”
- You may want to set a reminder.
Leave no room for forgetfulness.
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