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Last Updated on December 9, 2020

How to Break a Habit and Easily Hack the Habit Loop

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.

    More on How to Break a Habit

    Featured photo credit: Lukas Blazek via unsplash.com

    Reference

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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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