Sunday, May 29, 2016

Habits; curse them or love them

A habit is a regularly repeated routine or behavior. The majority of our habits occur subconsciously. For most people, good habits are difficult to form and bad habits are even more difficult to break. 

I smoked for several years in the late teens and early twenties. When I woke up in the morning, the first thing I did was reach for a cigarette. As soon as I sat down in my car, I reached for one. After every meal, I reached into my shirt pocket for one. Even a year after I quit smoking, I would automatically reach towards my shirt pocket after a meal. The imprint of reaching for a cigarette was there long after the nicotine urge was gone. Nicotine was the addiction, but unconsciously reaching for a cigarette was the habit.

Wikipedia discusses habit formation in this way.

Habit formation is the process by which a behavior, through regular repetition, becomes automatic or habitual. This process of habit formation can be slow. Lally, et al, found the average time for participants to reach the point where it is an actual habit was 66 days (with a range of 18–254 days).
As the habit is forming, it can be analyzed in three parts: the cue, the behavior, and the reward. The cue is the thing that causes the habit to come about, the trigger of the habitual behavior. This could be anything that one's mind associates with that habit and one will automatically let a habit come to the surface. The behavior is the actual habit that one exhibits, and the reward, a positive feeling, therefore continues the "habit loop". A habit may initially be triggered by a goal, but over time that goal becomes less necessary and the habit becomes more automatic.

The key to changing habits is to identify your cue and modify your routine and reward.

Not all habits are bad. My daily exercise program is a good habit. Every morning I exercise before breakfast. If something happens that throws my routine off, my subconscious nags at me until I take the time to exercise. My reward is how I feel afterward.

And, the easiest way to quit a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. 

My words of power for today are:
I only embrace good habits

So how does one get started in eliminating bad habits?
  1. Identify: You start by identifying your habits’ cues and rewards. What cues you to perform the habit? What is your reward? 
  2. Determine: Next, decide on the bad habits that need to be broken. Ask yourself why this habit needs to be eliminated.
  3. Prioritize: Only focus on one; the one that will provide the greatest benefit if broken. For example, between meal snacking might have helped put thirty extra pounds on you.
  4. Reward: What is the reward you will receive if you change the habit? There has to be a reward or goal established, or there isn’t a reason to break the habit. For example, how proud your daughter will be when you walk her down the aisle at her wedding. 
  5. Cues/Reminders: Initially, you will need to cue yourself—remind yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Write yourself notes, schedule time in your daily planner, stop buying something, or leave out something as a reminder. 
  6. Track Results: Every day you succeed in breaking the habit, pat yourself on the back. Write it in your journal or on a chart. If you are losing weight, for example, track the weight loss.

And always remember to …
Embrace your good habits

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