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Last Updated on December 9, 2020

How to Break a Habit and Easily Hack the Habit Loop

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How to Break a Habit and Easily Hack the Habit Loop

Is there something that you just love or can’t stop doing on a daily basis? Maybe you absolutely have to start your day with a coffee or you won’t be able to function. Or, you need to go for a run every evening. Perhaps it is something more subtle, like twirling your hair whenever you’re in deep thought, or tapping your fingers whenever you’re feeling impatient.

Take some time now to think about something specific that you find yourself doing all the time. How did that habit form? Is it something you want to continue doing, or is it something you’d rather do away with? And most importantly, how is it affecting your life?

When it comes to habits and routines, most people want to learn how to be in control of them. Whether it’s trying to quit smoking, cutting out junk food, or going to bed early, habits can be hard to control. They are really quite sneaky since they are behaviors that develop and occur subconsciously; yet they also have the biggest impact on the outcome of our successes, whether you realize it or not.

Learning how to break a habit can be difficult, but it will be well worth the effort if you take the time to hack the habit loop.

How Habits Govern Your Life

Many people don’t consider habits as a key factor of their personal success because they simply see them as routines. Habits are either good or bad, and that’s as far as most people would go. They don’t necessarily make the connection to personal success.

This is because most people put emphasis on external factors when looking at success. They may consider luck, education, or family background when determining success. While habits are largely internal, they are often overlooked.

The truth is, habits are a core factor that govern almost every aspect of our lives. They account for the vast majority of our actions on a daily basis from big to small: your morning routine, where you typically have lunch, or even the route you take to work and back home. These are all habits!

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If you’re someone who has strong willpower, or a high threshold of discipline, then great! You might find that breaking a bad habit or sticking to a new good habit is not too hard. However, for the vast majority of us, that can be a real issue.

Thankfully, habits don’t rely only on one’s willpower. Successful people are able to actively steer their habits and use them as a tool to create consistent and systematic inputs or actions towards an outcome that they want to achieve.

You can see some bad habits that can negatively affect your life in the following video:

So how do you learn how to break a habit?

Deconstructing a Habit

Thankfully, habits can be tamed, and once you gain full control over them, you’re going to realize their true potential in steering your life towards greater achievement and progress.

So, let me deconstruct a habit for you.

The way in which a habit is formed can be described as a habit loop. This is a cycle that governs how every habit forms and functions[1].

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It’s made up of three key components:

  1. Cue
  2. Routine
  3. Reward

Cue

A cue is something that triggers your habit. It might be an event, an action, a feeling, people, or even an emotional state.

Routine

A routine is the behavior that follows after your habit has been triggered. Because habits are on “autopilot,” a routine is usually the same sequence of actions that is taken each and every time.

Reward

A reward is the positive reinforcement your brain identifies with the routine that you’ve just entered. It associates the routine with the cue; so, your brain remembers to repeat the behavior again in order to get the same reward in the future.

Looking at this simple loop, you can see that the culprit of any bad habit starts from the cue. That is what triggers the start of the habit loop and makes it so difficult to learn how to break a habit[2].

The Habit Loop

     

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    Let’s use a popular example of a bad habit: Smoking.

    Perhaps you might be feeling stressed (cue) after a long meeting; you decide to take a little break and light up a cigarette (routine). While smoking, you start feeling calm and relaxed from the nicotine rush, giving you a physical sensation of satisfaction (reward). As a result, you continue with this routine every time you feel stressed or want to unwind.

    Here, you can see that cues are the starting point for each time you go through a habit loop. Theoretically, without the cue to trigger your habit, your routine or behavior won’t follow, and the reward will not be attained. When any part of the habit loop is broken, that’s a potential weak point, which you can utilize to help you break your habit.

    How to Take Control of Your Cues

    This means that the first step to controlling your habits is to take control of your cues. Go back to the specific habit that I asked you to think of in the beginning. Can you identify the cue that kicks off your habit?

    Now, think of another habit that you have. Of the two habits that you’ve identified, which one is more prominent in your daily life? Now compare the two potential cues for each habit. Are they different in nature?

    Since cues are the spark for any habit to form, one of the main reasons habits are unequal is because they each have a different quality of cues. Some cues are just more effective than others. The more regular a cue is, the more likely the habit will form. The more stable a cue is, in that it is seldom affected by external factors, it is also more likely the habit will form.

    While we’re talking about regularity and stability, time is of the essence. The shorter the time frame that a cue repeats, the more effective a cue becomes. Anything more than a week means a cue becomes a lot less effective.

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    How to Break a Habit

    By now, I hope you can see that every element in the habit loop feeds and reinforces each other, creating a snowball effect. A habit becomes stronger as you repeat it more times. By understanding and tackling the first part of the habit loop, the cue, you’re already one step closer to controlling your habits!

    Now, you may have read hundreds of books and articles, and watched a ton of videos, maybe even tried some solutions to help you break or form new habits. But, none of them really had any impact. They bring only incremental changes, and that’s not what you’re looking for.

    This is because permanent change requires a holistic approach, and it requires more than just focusing on one area of your life or working on changing a part of your routine or actions.

    Your habits are just part of a greater system of thinking that is responsible for the way your life turns out. Every action and behavior comes from an original thought pattern. Therefore, if you really want to break bad habits, create new ones, and have a total lifestyle change, then you’ll need to change more than just your habits.

    This is where the Breakthrough Framework comes in. It’ll help provide an overall paradigm shift for you to turn any limitation you may be having into an opportunity that is achievable.

    By going through each of the 4 steps, you’ll be able to transform your mind and actions towards the change that is needed to achieve your ultimate goals, and truly break free from anything that is currently holding you back.

    The Bottom Line

    Learning how to break a habit can take time and can be full of setbacks. However, if you stay dedicated to overcoming each challenge along the way, you will slowly but surely replace your bad habits with more positive ones and steer your life in a better direction.

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    More on How to Break a Habit

    Featured photo credit: Lukas Blazek via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on October 7, 2021

    Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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    Are You Addicted to Productivity?

    “It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

    Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

    “Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

    Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

    Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

    “The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

    This is my mantra:

    I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

    But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

    Addiction to Productivity is Real

    Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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    “A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

    Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

    “It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

    Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

    “A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

    “There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

    “For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

    There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

    Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

    By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

    Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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    Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

    Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

    Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

    The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

    Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

    • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
    • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
    • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
    • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
    • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
    • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
    • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

    The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

    Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

    Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

    1. Set Limits

    Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

    For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

    2. Create a Not-to-Do List

    Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

    3. Be Vulnerable

    By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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    4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

    Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

    Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

    There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

    5. Don’t Be a Copycat

    Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

    That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

    6. Say Yes to Less

    Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

    That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

    Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

    7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

    “In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

    “That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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    • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
    • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
    • Establish realistic goals.
    • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
    • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
    • Hold yourself accountable.
    • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
    • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

    8. Simplify

    Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

    The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

    9. Learn How to Relax

    “Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

    “But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

    “And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

    But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

    • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
    • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
    • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
    • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
    • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
    • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
    • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
    • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
    • Visit a massage therapist.
    • Just breathe.

    “Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

    It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

    Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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