Before reading this, you should see mental models and new habits.
The most important rule of habit change
The most important rule about changing habits is that you cannot remove your existing habits. Each repetitive action compounds in your brains. After you have done enough repetitions, habits are formed. After they are formed, a positive feedback loop strengthens it by repeating the action all over again. The longer your feedback loop has worked, the longer it takes to change the existing habit. It also means that the longer you have had a habit, the harder it is to change it.
Four components of habit change
It is possible for you to understand how to change habits only after you understand how to create new ones. Changing a habit is much harder than creating a new one. Your habits are your paths of least resistancepaths of least resistance. Changing them requires lots of effort. What I really mean about changing a habit is to change your routine and what you associate as a prize. Triggers are normally much less important than two other components of the habits. Sometimes you can think that routines and prizes are self-evident, but you may be wrong. There are four components or steps in changing the habits:
- Identifying a routine
- Experimenting with prizes
- Isolating a trigger
- Making a plan
The first part is the easiest. You have to identify a routine of the habit you want to change. For example, you want to buy less crap when you go to a grocery store. Routines are easy to identify. These steps are obvious for most people. And I am sure they are easy for you too. I am sure you have many habits you want to change, but you should proceed cautiously. If you have never succeeded before, focus on one habit first.
Experimenting with prizes is necessary. It is not easy to notice what the real prize actually is. It is easier to notice what you associate for a prize. Prizes can be anything from short-time feelings to hormone-changes in your body. For example, eating something sweet when you are tired can increase your blood-glucose level for a short-term. After a while, you need to eat another sweet. This goes on and on and your eating habits are not good. There is no easy way to find out what your real prize is. You may need to have some help from your loved ones or your friends. You should probably keep a diary about routines and emotions that occur right after them to find out what is the real prize you desire. You can also tell your emotions for your helping hand, whoever that is. You should do this as long as you have found out what the real prize is.
You should isolate the trigger after finding a real prize. Triggers have common denominators. They can be linked to locations, people you are with, emotional or physical states, or actions. Triggers can also be combinations of them all. The best way to isolate a trigger is to keep a diary or write notes for your habit you want to change. Lets keep things simple and use ”Joe” buying sweets as an example. Notes could look like this after some note-taking:
- Location (In front of your grocery store)
- Company (Alone)
- Emotional/Physical state (Hunger and feeling tired)
- Time (5 or 6 PM.)
- Previous action (Standing in a full bus)
Note-taking should be repeated until you have isolated the trigger. This is easier said than done. And not all the things that feel and look like triggers are them. You may find more common things in situations where your bad habits rule than necessary. All the common things do not belong to a trigger for a bad habit.
After you have identified a routine, experimented with prizes, and isolated the trigger, you have to make a plan to change your habit. You have to make a plan that has a trigger, routine, and a prize. Joe´s plan looks like this: When he is in front of his grocery store at 5PM, alone, and is hungry and feels tired after standing in a full bus for half an our after leaving his work (trigger) he goes inside the grocery store and buys a healthy snack with his other healthy groceries, instead of buying sweets like he normally does (changed routine). This is best achieved by changing his route in a way that sweets are least available and healthy snacks are most available for his senses. He does this to get a prize, which is a normal blood glucose level (association changed about the prize). This plan should be executed all over again, until the habit has changed.
The longer you have had a habit, the longer it takes to change one. Sometimes change takes even up to six months. You should also expect failures in the process and plan how to react to them. Failures are not disasters, they provide much needed feedback. It is actually more probable that you will fail at least once than getting a complete success once and for all. Everything should be made as simple as possible. You should focus on the next step all the time without thinking. When you start, you should focus on the first step. Try forgetting the real goal. After you have failed the first time, focus on the next step again.
Timing matters. It matters when you establish a new habit, but it is even more important in changing habits. Sometimes you have to change your bad habits instantaneously. When you have a time to make a plan and change your habit, you should also think about the right moment to change it. The most common way to start changing a habit is to make a new year´s resolution. When it comes to timing, it is possibly the worst time to start changing habits. Resolutions are not by themselves bad things. If your resolution is based on the assumption that you start executing it 1st of January, then it is probably the worst time to start the change.
Habit change requires an enormous amount of conscious effort in the beginning. Your willpower is at its lowest level after a new year eve´s party. You will feel tired and you possibly have a bad hangover. Changing your habit then becomes basically impossible. Your first failure occurs and you give up before you have even started. You should start changing your habit when you feel sharp and have recovered from emotional and physical stress. For example, you can start it on vacation. You should always consider the best option for yourself for starting the change. It can also depend on the habit. You cannot change a habit, when it doesn´t normally occur. This might seem like no-brainer to you, but maybe it is better to mention it.
There are only few important mental models to introduce. For the next months I will probably focus on giving more in depth view about how they work in real life and how these models interact in real life applications.
The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
Stick With It, Sean Young
The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
Stick With It, Sean Young