Sometimes good habits need breaking too

January 31, 2017

My family loves to watch “The Middle” on TV. Those of you who are familiar with the show will understand when I say that when it comes to reading, I channel my inner “Brick”. I find it difficult to stop reading. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, reading is great, right? However even a good habit, can become an obstacle when it gets in the way of achieving other priorities.


The good habits we often get stuck in are usually ones that we derive some kind of reward from. Alternatively, we can also use them to rationalise out why we are not doing other less rewarding tasks. If we take my reading habit, for example, I tell myself that reading is healthy and an important part of life and work, so it is not so bad that I haven’t done my accounts or written that proposal if I am reading.




The Habit Loop

This is the Habit Loop. It is a neurological loop that your brain uses to manage your habits.


When we engage in a habit it is usually triggered by some sort of cue. For me, my cue to read is sitting down in front of my laptop with a cup of coffee in the morning. The routine is the behaviour that follows, ie opening up my LinkedIn and perusing through my feed to uncover all of the wonderful content that has been uploaded in the last 24hours. The reward that I get is that I am learning, I feel enriched and I am also doing an activity that I can successfully rationalise out as “working” to avoid other less pleasant tasks.


Habits are automatic behaviours that we do without really consciously thinking about it. However, in the infancy of every habit was a decision point, when we started to do a routine or behaviour following a certain cue, in order to receive a reward that we craved. If we want to change our habits we need to again make that decision to start a new routine in response to a cue. To do this we need to stop and take a look at our own habit loops.


Identify the parts of your habit loop?

The first step in changing any habit is to identify the individual parts of the habit loop. The easiest way to do this is to start with the behaviour that you want to change or replace, ie the routine. Changing the routine is the key to changing habits.


Figure out your trigger

The next step is to work backwards from the routine to what happened just before you started the routine. This is your trigger or cue. The trigger can be sometimes harder to figure because it can be subconscious. Maybe you are simply bored, maybe you are finding a task difficult, or perhaps you are feeling anxious because of an upcoming deadline. Other times it can be more tangible like putting the kettle on, or finishing a meal, or it could simply be a time of day. Identifying your trigger is a crucial step in interrupting your habit loop.