Habits…we all have them; some are good, some are bad, and some well…they just are. It seems like the bad ones come easy, the good ones are nearly impossible and the rest we don’t even recognize as habits. So, how do these habits form? What can we do to eliminate the bad ones? How do we incorporate new habits without them seeming like a chore?
Habits have 3-main parts; a cue, a behavior, and a reward. If we want to change our habits we need to make conscious efforts to identify each part, recognize it as part of our habit, and establish a plan to change.
Our habits are easy to identify. Eating sweets after dinner, having an adult beverage when you get home from work, washing you hands after you use the bathroom, flossing, or buckling your seat belt are all examples of habits. The trickier part of habits are the cue and the reward.
The cue is what sets our habits into motion, the thing that triggers our behavior. The cue could be sitting on the couch to watch TV, the people around you, boredom, the timing, or how you feel. Take the example of always wanting a sweet treat after dinner. What’s the cue that sets your habit into motion? Do you always eat while watching TV? Are the other people in your house eating? Do you feel like you deserve it because you had a hard day? Once you can make the connection between the cue and your habit you’ll be able to start diving into the final part of a habit, the reward.
Identifying the reward might be the trickiest part as it’s not always the first thing we think of. If your habit is to have an adult beverage when you get home from work and maybe you have established that your cue is sitting down and “putting your feet up” you now need to figure out what the reward is from having a drink. What role is the behavior playing in satisfying your needs? Does it make you feel less stressed? Are you more relaxed? Does it quench your thirst? Does it help you forget about your day?
Once you have broken down your habit; the behavior, its cue that gets it started, and reward that its satisfying you can start making a plan to change. To do this you need to start substituting your behavior with another, better behavior that will reward and satisfy. If having a sweet treat while watching tv is your habit you could try replacing the sweet treat with a healthier snack. If that doesn’t work you may need to think about eliminating the cue, so instead of watching TV you read a book, or go to bed earlier. If you habit is having a drink because it relieves stress you could try getting in a workout, going to a yoga class, meditation, or taking a nap.
The key to success is to figure out what works best for you and sticking to the plan. It may be challenging at first, you may need to try a few different behaviors to find the one that is right for you, but if you stick with your plan you can make long lasting change.