Hacking the Habit Loop
We all have habits: things we do routinely, often without thinking. Some habits are simple and require little energy, like brushing your teeth every day. Others are more complex and require extra effort, like practicing a musical instrument every day. Some habits are considered generally “good” – eating healthy foods, exercising, or meditating regularly; while others are considered generally “bad” – smoking, spending too much time on the computer, you get the picture.
We also all have goals: things we want to achieve, whether big or small. Often, sticking to our goals means changing an old habit and, as we all know, old habits die hard. That’s why, at (ix)plore Lab, we like to focus on setting up for success. Changing our behavior is hard! We can make it easier by understanding the neurological Habit Loop. There is a lot of research on how habits work, and we encourage you to explore it, but for now, we’ll keep it simple:
We run through habit loops all day long, which is great! It means we don’t have to constantly spend precious energy and brain power on things like putting on pants or locking the front door. However, when we want to change a habit, mindfulness is vital. After all, how can you change something if you don’t know it exists? When you’re more aware of your actions, you’ll start to notice that many of them follow this pattern:
- Cue – What triggers the loop; i.e., You are bored by a project at work
- Routine – The cue triggers a craving, which you react to with a routine behavior:
- Craving – You want to be entertained
- Reaction – You check social media and see some hilarious cat videos
- Reward – Once your craving is satisfied, the routine behavior is linked to the cue; i.e., You are entertained by the cat videos, so checking social media becomes associated with boring work.
Once you’ve discovered a behavior loop you’d like to change, you can employ James Clear’s Four Laws of Behavior Change in creating a new loop that is:
- Obvious – How will you know that you should perform your new habit?
- Attractive – What craving are you satisfying?
- Easy – What obstacles can you eliminate?
- Satisfying – What reward will you receive from performing your new habit?
It will be easier to maintain your new habit or work towards your goal once you’ve created a clear, satisfying plan. But, no matter what goals you’re setting or habits you’re working on, remember: you’ll likely get stressed out and slip up, and that’s okay. Falling is part of the game. Just remember to get up, brush yourself off, and play on.