Reprogramming our Habits in an Uncertain World
Reprogramming our Habits in an Uncertain World
New diet, New exercise regime, New manager, New world, New You! We have all got attracted to the shiny new thing, only for our attraction to dissipate over time.
How long does it actually take to break a bad habit or create a new one? Why is it that studies have shown that only 8% of people maintain the motivation necessary to persist with their new habit resolutions?
The problem isn’t that we are too weak or that we have a flawed character or that our habits just can’t be changed. It’s more likely that we didn’t have an awareness of the habit process to begin with, have a proven plan and if we are honest, we gave up too soon.
The latest research from the University of London found that it takes over 2 months to form a new habit or break an old one. To have the commitment necessary to ‘create a new you’ we must firstly understand the science behind habit formation and why it really matters.
Why do habits exist?
Our habits can define our life! When we can cultivate empowering, replenishing, value oriented reflexive habits into our daily lives we change the game and our lives forever.
A habit is something that we repeat regularly and eventually becomes a part of our nature. Habits are controlled by our subconscious mind. Recent studies by neurobiologists and cognitive psychologists reveal that between 40 - 95% of human behaviour can be classified as habit.
Even if we consider a modest 50% of our behaviours as habit - this means that we are on auto-pilot half of our waking life. What we think, what we say, and our overall day-to-day actions are occurring often without us even knowing. Many of us are living on auto pilot! Running the same subconscious programs that have been running our lives since we were young children!
Consider then, if we have negative, emotionally destructive habits built into our lives – how is this manifesting in our relationships, our feelings and our actions? And the contrary, what happens when we change the programme? When our reflexive habits are empowering, replenishing and soul nourishing?!
Habits are immensely significant. They are not only a prominent part of our lives, they are our lives. And, we have the power to change them.
Changing the Programme
We can change the programme. To understand how habits can be changed, let us first look at how habits are formed.
Through extensive experimentation, scientists have discovered that a tiny structure located at the centre of the brain is responsible for storing habits. This area of the brain is termed as the ‘basal ganglia’.
The brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine in a process called ‘chunking’. We use hundreds of such behavioural chunks in our daily life and they are the foundation of what we call habits.
In our brains, habits occur in a three-part process. The first step is the cue, then comes the routine and finally we have the reward. This three-part process is termed as the habit loop.
We can focus on changing one key habit at first. Identifying and changing this ‘Keystone Habit’ can eventually lead to a compound effect and a complete reprograming. Similar to downloading a new computer program – we begin to work from a different system. A more powerful system, one that we created, with our deepest values at the core.
Although these changes may not be easy or quick, the rewards are profound.
The Process of Reprograming
The habit loop consists of cue, routine and reward. Using this rule, typically the routine part is altered. We can adapt to a new habit more comfortably when the first and last part of the habit loop is familiar.
The bestselling book ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg offers a fantastic insight into how patterns of habits are formed in the human brain. There are times when we consider some bad habits as permanent and get disheartened when we are unable to alter them. It is important then to understand that continuing to live with these unwanted habits is not our fate. We have the power to change the programme.
Duhigg highlighted the simplicity of the compound effect in a real-life example of a lady called Lisa. Lisa completely transformed her life, initially by focusing on one keystone habit. Lisa was suffering, she didn’t feel she was enough, she was in debt, was overweight, felt miserable and would often turn to alcohol to numb the pain she was experiencing in her life.
Reeling from her husband’s betrayal and sudden divorce, she took an unplanned trip to Egypt. Upon seeing the majestic desert, she made a promise to herself that she would come back and cross the desert at some point in the future. However, she quickly realised that to do this, she must get in shape and the first habit she decided on tackling was to quit smoking.
By focusing on the single keystone habit of smoking, Lisa triggered a domino effect. She lost 60 pounds, ran a marathon, started a masters degree and became self-sufficient again. From a strong enough why she reprogrammed her subconscious mind and changed her life. One habit at a time.
What Lisa discovered; the science has proven. When we structure our resolutions in a certain way they’re much more likely to stick. The very word “Resolution” comes from the Latin word “resolutionem” which means “the process of reducing things into simpler forms”.
To achieve our goal, like Lisa we will need to break down and identify all the parts and habits that are creating the behaviour we want to change.
Here is the scientifically proven 4 step process that we use at Inspiring Excellence in coaching our clients.
Find your ‘Why?’
At first you must have a strong enough motivation to ensure that you have the desire necessary to persist with your goals. The bigger the ‘why’, the bigger the possibility of powerful change. What is the most important change that can have the biggest impact on your life today?
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Identify your current reality
What are the habits that are holding you back from making this change? This step involves reflection, which is most effective in a distraction free environment, with peace and quiet.
Take out a notebook, Post it pad or simply start to draw your current reality on a clear page. The more creative you are, the more of your subconscious mind will become engaged. As habits often emerge beneath the surface without our permission, art is a powerful way to submerge them.
“Habits are powerful but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission but can be re-shaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize- they are so strong., in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”
Charles Duhigg - New York Times Bestselling Author of The Power of Habit
Draw your Habit Loop
Every habit has three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. To identify each part you must pay attention to your environment.
Figure out your cue
Cues can be a specific time of the day, emotional states, or other triggers. We often turn to bad habits in times of excess stress. A simple acronym Psychologists use to help you identify your specific cue is HALT. Is it Hunger, Anger, Loneliness or Tiredness that is the root of your bad habits?
Experiment with different rewards
Habits are powerful because they deliver rewards. To make your resolution stick you must identify your rewards. Why are you drinking 3 cups of coffee every day? To figure it out you must conduct experiments. Eat an apple to see if reducing hunger was the reward you craved. Go for a walk to see if your reward is downtime. On the third day you might discover that the real reason was that you lacked social connection and wanted to meet friends. The reward you were craving was socialisation, not caffeine!
Change the routine
Understanding your cue, routine and reward it now becomes much easier to change. Simply identify a new routine or habit that gives you the same reward. Call to a friend’s house, ring an uplifting person or schedule walks with a group of friends rather than overloading on caffeine because of the lack of social connection.
Anticipate the obstacles
Having identified your habit loop, change does not occur effortlessly. Identifying the obstacles when your desire is likely to drop is proven to significantly increase your persistence through the challenging moments.
Using the WOOP strategy of identifying your ‘Wish’, desired ‘Outcome’, key ‘Obstacles’ and a reflective ‘Plan’ for overcoming these obstacles will ensure that you will remain on track when the going gets tougher.
As in the example here, the outcome is much more likely to happen when we have a plan in advance for any perceived obstacle.
Wish - I wish to feel more socially connected through this isolating time
Outcome – I want to meet my friends at least once a week to socialise
Obstacle – I am unsure is this allowed under government regulations
Plan – I will schedule a weekly walk in nature with my closest friend instead
When you’ve achieved your new habit loop, don’t forget to reinforce the reward to close the loop.
How Organizations can Leverage the Science of Habits
The process for change is the same for organisations and teams as it is with individuals, start with focusing on changing a keystone habit and overall change will follow with a compounding effect.
Claude C. Hopkins is considered a pioneer in the field of advertisement. His astonishingly successful campaign for Pepsodent toothpaste resulted in Pepsodent becoming one of the top selling goods in the world.
His campaign leveraged the immense power of his understanding of human habits and psychology.
The two basic rules he used:
1. Find a simple and obvious cue
2. Clearly define the reward.
In the case of Pepsodent, he used the cue of ‘tooth film’ (dental plaque) as a justification for brushing teeth daily and paired it up with the reward of a pretty smile and looking beautiful!
The results, within a decade of this campaign the number of Americans who owned toothpaste jumped from 7 percent to 65 percent!
Starbucks also leveraged the power of habits in their growth strategy which was based on the understanding that will-power is the single most important keystone habit for success. Starbucks spent millions of dollars in developing extensive coaching programs and curriculum to upskill their employees on self-discipline alone.
As a result, this little coffee store originating from Seattle is now the largest coffeehouse company in the world with over 30,000 stores worldwide.
The Last Word
Learning to identify cue’s in our daily life and what triggers certain habits is the first step on the journey to change. By understanding the science behind habits, they are no longer seen as some mystical force that we have no control over.
Remember you are not lazy, weak or uncommitted if you have a challenge in breaking bad habits. There are psychological factors which make breaking from habits a challenge for everyone. Thankfully there is also powerful science that has a proven process to break those same habits and create life changing results.
Focus on one habit at a time and have a detailed plan following these 4 simple steps. You can reprogram your subconscious mind, you can change your habits, you can change your life!
If your interested in expert advice on how to start the process of habit change through uncertainty, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inspiring Excellence helps people, teams and organisations become their best and thrive through uncertainty. To learn more about our success stories, check out our client testimonials.