This is how you can change your habits
Chapter 7 from the CHANGE JOURNAL »
"Humans are creatures of habit." This phrase is probably almost as old as humanity itself. No wonder habits tend to sneak into our lives unnoticed – to let us get through most of the day in autopilot mode. According to scientific research, this goes for 40 % of our waking hours. And actually, that's just fine. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be if we had to rethink every move and action first? Habits make life easier for us.
That means everything's okay. Well, no! Unfortunately, not all habits are good friends. The bag of gummy bears on the desk, the sluggishness that keeps you permanently glued to your couch, the mobile phone game that keeps you away from a book – all those treacherous, nasty temptations. Let's talk about bad habits ... and how to get rid of them.
It's far from easy to shake off something you've gotten used to. Especially something that has become self-perpetuating and takes place automatically. But I want to touch this hot iron with a clear plan: A simple strategy based on scientific facts, empirical data, and an inspiring journal template. This combination should be worthy of you giving it a chance.
I want to start with the number 66. That's a doubly exciting number from more than just one perspective, as it takes an average of 66 days to acquire a pattern of behavior. And it also takes 66 days to get rid of it. Behavioral scientist Phillippa Lally came to this conclusion in one of her 2009 studies. Let's focus on eliminating behavior. The New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg presented a convincing account of his experience. His opponent was a chocolate cookie: Every day at 3.30 pm, he went to the cafeteria and ate one – and when he realized that it was like an addiction, it was too late. Upon realizing that he was un- able to forget about the infamous cookie ritual, he examined the problem in depth. He discovered what he calls the "habit loop": The behavioral pattern on which every habit, good or bad, is based. This habit loop consists of three phases:
- The trigger tells the brain to adopt a particular behavior... such as having to eat a chocolate cookie every day at 3.30 pm.
- The routine that goes along with this loop: Leaving the desk on time, walking to the cafeteria, buying a cookie, and chatting with colleagues while eating the cookie.
- The reward – is the positive enjoyment experienced by the brain, which will make it recall the habit loop the next time.
It's a tricky situation: We're trapped before we fully realize that our chocolate cookie (or anything else) has become more than an extra we occasionally enjoy. We frequently do not yet understand that this behavior has already morphed into an automatic habit. Whenever we don't receive little pleasure, we feel – at least! – an unpleasant deficit. That's why we find it so hard to eliminate our routine.
But we know that pursuing a clear strategy to support our good intention can help us survive those 66 days. And at the end of this valley of tears, the unwanted habit will be overcome once and for all.
Doesn't this prospect give you the courage to try it too?