There have been lots of impactful changes during this pandemic. One revealing thing is how we treat ourselves has become more important than ever, as we have more time alone with ourselves. In other words, if our daily habits do not serve us well, we may not act in ways that benefits us, causing life to be even more difficult during a tough time like this.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit. — Aristotle
To improve the relationship with ourselves and better achieve our new-year goals, forming good habits is a great start. (Oh yes, happy new year, my friend 😊)
In this post, I’m going to share with you:
What a habit is (cue-routine-reward loop).
Why we need to beware of fixed engagement in habitual behaviors.
Ways to break bad habits and more easily stick to good ones.
Let’s move inwards and begin the journey of watering ourselves with good habits!
What Makes up a Habit
We, human beings, have a conscious mode and an unconscious one — when faced with a challenge, the conscious one takes over; when tired, the unconscious one does instead.
The latter is like living on autopilot, it feels like someone else is the driver instead of us. In that state, things get easily done without willpower, thanks to our brains having an unconscious decision-making mechanism so that we can take care of routine tasks. And habits can help us reach that effortless state.
According to the book, The Power of Habit, habits are loops composed of a cue, a routine and a reward which save us from using efforts.
Cue-routine-reward loops can be found in any habits. Firstly, an external cue is sensed, like a ringing alarm clock. An overall activity of the brain increases as it determines what habit is suitable for the condition.
Secondly, a routine is activated, meaning the activity a person is used to doing when this particular cue is encountered. An example is rushing to the washroom brushing teeth while the brain is on autopilot.
Eventually comes the reward. It could be a sensation of success. For instance, a soothing feeling inside the mouth owing to the clean teeth. An overall spike is created again in the brain activity as it registers the activity completion, strengthening the relationship among the cue, routine and reward.
This crucial process allows the brain to carry out routine tasks efficiently, conserving energy for more important ones.
Why Bad Habits Can Be Devastating
Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. — Warren Buffett
While good habits can improve our lives, bad ones can be devastating. According to the book, Outwitting the Devil, danger arises when habits like drinking starts becoming a regular way of life instead of an irregular activity. One could be badly affected by such fixed engagement in habitual behaviors which the author terms the law of hypnotic rhythm.
Although the law applies to both positive and negative habits, we ought to be very mindful of bad ones as they can devastatingly affect our well-being. For instance, if there is no limiting on the intake of food, a lot of illnesses can be caused. As bad habits like overeating are developed, our own body condition worsens overtime, and eventually, we may be stripped of our own potentials to accomplish other goals in life.
Break Away from Bad Habits by Making Commitments
From the book Design Your Future, the disruption of ingrained habits does not necessarily require giving up all things one enjoys. Instead, it is about building a more healthy relationship with things like entertainment, and a way to do that is making commitments. For example, if you are a smartphone addict, try declaring the work desk a smartphone-free area for two weeks just for fun. For alcoholics, why not accept a challenge of refraining from drinking for one month? By doing so, we can reclaim ourselves from compulsive behavior, and only do those things when we really want to do them.
Substitute Bad Habits with Good Keystone Habits
More strategies on how one can break bad habits are offered in the book The Power of Habit.
Remember the cue-routine-reward loop we just discussed? A simple way to fix bad habits is substituting something else for the bad part in a routine while keeping cue and reward the same. Let’s say, if a cue causes you to eat junk food, replace it with healthier-yet-tasty alternatives through which you may still have the same reward of a feel-good sensation.
On top of this, consider incorporating keystone habits into our routine where possible.
Keystone habits, as defined by Charles Duhigg:
Small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.
One example is exercising which could bring other associated benefits like a better body and feel-good endorphin that automatically breaks other bad habits such as relying on alcohol to relieve oneself from stress.
Cling to Good Habits Effortlessly with Autosuggestion
While starting a good habit may be easy, sticking to it is often an uneasy task and sometimes really frustrates us. When we want to give up, what should we do?
According to the book Napoleon Hill’s Golden Rules: The Lost Writings, when in the most difficult early stages of forming a new habit, autosuggestion can help.
Spend a little time multiple times a day imagining the process of waking up full of energy and being able to easily spring out of bed. While visualizing, picture every single detail, such as yawning out loud, stretching both arms before fully rising out of bed. Thanks to autosuggestion turning visualized thoughts into bodily actions, it no longer takes much effort to wake up early.
Begin Each Morning Well Allowing Good Habits to Follow
Besides autosuggestion, starting small helps. An example is making our bed. Sometimes the simplest of things can be the most effective.
According to the book of literally the same title, Make Your Bed can be a tiny but significant reminder to get the ball rolling and maintain good habits the rest of the day. Don’t look down on something that small. It can have a tremendous effect, which can hugely affect our quality of life.
Personally, there are days in hot summer where I do not need to make my bed, so I also like the idea of placing a cup near my bed as a reminder — when I wake up seeing it, it would be hard to forget drinking water first thing in the morning.
When You Feel Discouraged…
A bit of encouragement from our final book, The Power of Bad, in case you find replacing bad habits with good ones discouraging — Don’t get angry at yourself if you slip up one day during the process. Simply try to hit your mark again the next few days.
The author suggests one should aim for 4 positives for every 1 negative instead of perfection. This allows for a more accurate perspective on one’s overall success and prevents one setback from affecting the overall mood.
Acknowledge disappointment is a normal part of the process and adopt a positive mindset towards your self-improvement journey.
The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. Same amount of work. — Carlos Castaneda
In conclusion, the pandemic has allowed more time for ourselves, which can only be good if we form good habits to develop a good relationship with ourselves.
By learning about cue-routine-reward loops, adopting techniques like challenging ourselves with commitments, substituting bad habits with good keystone habits, sticking to good habits using autosuggestion, ‘making our bed’ first thing in the morning, as well as not aiming for perfection, we can gain better control of ourselves.
Hope this helps. What’s next? Check out the book references I have linked above to expand on areas you would like to learn more about.
Once again, happy 2022, my friend. I wish you a great year ahead with this post. 🙂❤️