I just got off the phone with a friend who was telling me about a crazy urge she felt yesterday. The urge wasn’t crazy per se, she was more surprised by how powerful it felt and what triggered it. You see, my friend quit smoking more than two years ago, and she doesn’t feel like smoking in her day to day life and she’s not getting any ‘cravings’ if she’s with a group of smokers puffing away, BUT sometimes she gets the urge to smoke. It happens only when she gets super worked up about something. When she’s super angry she doesn’t turn into the Hulk, but she transforms into someone who really, really NEEDS a smoke.
She used to work in a high-stress environment and every time things got tenser than normal, she’d go out and light up and ciggie. Even after she quit that job and quit smoking, the trigger to her bad habit still has power: get upset –> light up a cigarette –> feel better. She doesn’t act on it but she does observe it and wonders at the power of our own habits.
Habits have immense power in our lives and given that 40% (some say up to 90%) of what we do in our lives is habit, things we do on autopilot, we need to make sure we get rid of the bad ones early and adopt good ones as fast as possible.
So, what’s in a habit?
Researchers know many things about habit formation but for some reason, we’re not educated about this and we can get easily manipulated by some companies who invest heavily in designing products that trap us in less than beneficial behaviours.
Every habit has a trigger, a behaviour, and a reward. The trigger can be internal or external. An external trigger can be the red notification bubble atop of your favourite app. An internal one can be a memory or an emotion. The behaviour is what you do – the action. The reward is what you get out of performing the action, i.e. feeling less hungry, seeing new posts in your Newsfeed, etc.
Adopting a good habit
To start doing something that would improve our life can be quite tricky. Even though we know that some things are good for us in the long run, we might lose our motivation to do them or start getting too bored to do them. That’s not the case with brushing our teeth. We just do it. It’s a habit. And that’s the best part about habits – they’re routines we do on autopilot. We don’t have to feel particularly excited about doing them, we just do them.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to run on autopilot when we work out, or save money, or walk the dog, or read before going to bed? It’s possible.
The easiest way to build up a new habit in your life is by tricking your brain into adopting it and this is where the rubber band technique proves to be golden.
The Rubber Band Technique
This is a great way to make sure you perform the action you want to turn into an everyday habit. After you wake up, place a rubber band on your dominant hand that you can move to your other hand only after you have completed the action you want to become a new habit – do 100 pushups, go for a run, meditate, have breakfast, read 5 pages, journal, anything.
This works because once you place it on your dominant hand, there’s no way you can miss it and it will get in the way of many of the things you’ll want to do instead. Placing it on your hand is the trigger to your new habit. Moving it to the other hand is the reward.
What helps in adopting a new habit is celebrating your streaks. They fuel your pride and motivation and you increasingly have more to lose if you fail to stick to your new routine.
Getting rid of a bad habit
Judson Brewer is very passionate about brain research and he uses his knowledge to help people get rid of bad habits. What he found out was that mindfulness can help people quit their additions and stop acting on the cravings (triggers) that lead to negative behaviours. It’s all fueled by the power of curiosity.
By taking a step back to think and analyse what you’re actually experiencing when you’re giving into a craving, you can break the chain and set yourself free.
If you’re mindful of what you’re getting out of lighting a cigarette, let’s say, you’ll get disenchanted, and that will allow you to let go of the bad habit. So, next time you get the urge to do something you shouldn’t be doing, start to break down:
– What it actually feels like? How would you explain the sensation to an alien? What are the tastes, smells, sensations associated with the behaviour?
– What happens to (or inside) your body?
– What is the thing you’re using/eating containing? Would you use or eat that if it was offered to you on its own?
If you want to better understand habits, you should check out my post about The Power of Habit, the book we talked about last year in our book club. And if you managed to get rid of bad habits and positively change your behaviour, please let me know about your experience down below, in the comments section.