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Last Updated on October 2, 2018

How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop

How to Break a Habit and 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, maintaining a healthy diet 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 in the outcome of our successes, whether you realize it or not.

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, educational or family background when determining success. While habits are largely internal, they are often overlooked.

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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!

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. But 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 output or outcome that they want to achieve.

So how does one 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.

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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.

It’s made up of three key components:

  1. Cue
  2. Routine
  3. Reward

A Cue

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

A 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.

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A Reward

A Reward is the positive reinforcement your brain identifies with the Routine that you’ve just taken. 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.

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.

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It’s Time 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 2 habits that you’ve identified, which one is more prominent in your daily life? Now compare the 2 potential cues for each habit. Are they different in nature?

Since Cues are the beginning 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.

And, 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.

Ready to Break the Habit Loop?

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!

If you want to continue on this journey of controlling your habits, why not subscribe to our newsletter? With it, you can learn more to equip yourself with new ways of taming those unwanted habits and help you cultivate new ones!

Featured photo credit: Lukas Blazek via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 2, 2019

Better Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions to Reduce Your Stress

Better Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions to Reduce Your Stress

The end of the year is the time when everyone tries to give you advice on how to live healthier, look better, and earn more money.

It’s understandable if you find yourself lost among all the tips and opinions. Sometimes you no longer know what you truly want to achieve next year – and what’s just imposed by society.

To help you out, we’ve made this article about the things you should remove from your new year’s resolution list – instead of adding to it – to make your daily life more harmonious and peaceful.

So just make sure you cross these off your New Year’s to-do list – your body, mind and soul will be thankful.

1. Stop Buying Meaningless Gifts

We all know the sense of obligation – when we have to buy a gift for an event or celebration that’s already tomorrow, but we still have no idea of what to give.

Take these tips close to heart for all upcoming holidays, including birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc.:

Stop focusing on the material objects

Instead of focusing on what material object to give, think about the emotion you want to evoke[1] in the gift recipient, and then pick a symbolic gift that can support or represent that emotion. For example, you can gift coziness by presenting a “comfort set” with warm socks, tea, candles, etc. Or give motivation by presenting a beautiful planner or notebook.

Plan gifts in advance

We know this is easier said than done. But if you try to plan which gifts you’ll need in the upcoming months (try making a list three or four times a year), ideas will more likely come to mind and you’ll avoid that last-minute shopping. Not to mention, you’ll be able to keep an eye on sales to get the best prices.

Suggest a better way

If you’re tired of exchanging gifts for birthdays and holidays, initiate a different approach. For example, draw names among family members and agree that each one only buys a present to that one person they got. Alternatively, you can agree not to share gifts among adults, and only give presents to kids of the family. Or, ask friends to donate to charity instead of buying a gift for you.

Go for common experiences instead of exchanging gifts

You can agree (with your partner or the extended family) to go on a common trip, dinner or another activity, instead of spending money on gifts.

Sometimes you’ll have to be the one who initiates breaking the rules that have been accepted in the family for years. But if you suspect that you’re not the only one in the group who’s tired of gift-hunting, you’ll surely find support for your suggestions.

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2. Don’t Exaggerate with Diets and Fitness Resolutions

It’s no secret that TV shows, article headlines, and ads (not to mention our healthy diet-obsessed friends) make us feel like we need to look better, slimmer and younger than we actually are. But going on yet another diet or starting a fitness plan with the wrong motivation rarely leads to great results.

If you are like many people, you have probably signed up for an annual gym membership at least once in your life – only to drop it one month later.

How do you balance a good resolution for a healthier life without pushing yourself into commitments that won’t last?

Here’s what you can do:

Set a healthier pattern

For example, do meat-free Mondays or reduce meat consumption to three days per week (less saturated fat for you and better for the environment). Or choose to eat only healthy food at least three days a week or only on weekdays (e.g. make sure your meals contain vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and protein). This way you’ll already have a healthier diet while still being able to treat yourself with a snack on weekends or parties.

Get a fitness watch

Fitness watches like Fitbit or MiBand are tiny accessories that will count your steps, calories burnt and will serve as an excellent motivator to move – or to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Find a physical activity that you enjoy

Even if you are not that fond of doing sports, you can definitely find an activity that you’d do with pleasure. Think about what you’d like – from taking up Nordic walking to pilates or even exercising at home.

Try intermittent fasting

This is an alternating cycles of fasting and eating. For example, stop eating at 8 pm and restart not sooner than 12 hours later. This approach has been proven to have numerous health benefits, in addition to weight loss.

Skip cabs or driving to work and opt for cycling or walking instead

You’ll burn calories, breathe some fresh air, and save money – win-win!

3. Put a Cap on Your Daily To-Do List

In today’s busy world, planning your day in a stress-free way is actually an art in itself. It’s natural to want to be a loving parent, a diligent employee, an active member of the local community and probably several other individual roles.

But playing all these roles requires energy and meticulous planning. How not to lose yourself amidst all the appointments and responsibilities? And – most importantly – how to still find time for relaxing and recharging yourself?

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These daily planning tips will help you have more stress-free days:

Leave bigger intervals between meetings

If you schedule too many appointments or chores in a day, you’ll probably end up late at some point, and as a result – more stressed. There are many different reasons why people are late, but poor planning is a major factor too.

Plan time to relax

As weird as it may sound, you should try and schedule your resting time. For example, if you only have one free evening this week, and a friend tries to squeeze in a meeting, feel free to say no. Don’t feel obliged to specify the reason for your refusal, just say that you are busy.

Try to be a little pessimistic

We’re often packed with plans or running late for errands because we tend to be overly optimistic – about the traffic, the time it takes to do things, etc. Instead, try an opposite tactic — assume you’ll hit traffic or the meeting will take longer.

Try waking up earlier

Sometimes even waking up 30 minutes earlier can give you the much-needed head start for several errands of the day. But remember to get enough sleep every night, even if it means going to bed earlier.

Plan your day the day before

Chances are your day will be much better organized if you pack a lunch and lay out an outfit before going to bed.

Designate a time for checking emails and social messages

If you start checking your messages between appointments, you risk getting lost in a sea of messages that need replies. Designate a time for this activity or do it in case you arrived early to a meeting.

4. Let Go of Unhealthy and Time-Consuming Habits

If there’s one thing we should get rid of in the new year, it’s the habits that steal our time, provide instant gratification but don’t offer any value in the long term. Or even worse, leave a negative impact on our health.

Here are some common (and pointless) habits along with tips on how to get rid of them:

Binge-watching TV series

Even if most online television platforms offer you lists of “Best TV Shows to Binge Watch”, being addicted to series is a major time-waster.

You can manage this addiction in several ways, for example, watch one episode per day (or a few per week) as a reward, only after you’ve finished an assignment or done a house chore. Or try replacing this habit with exercise or reading a book – this will be hard at first but should stick after a few weeks. You can also try to track how much time you spend on TV or movies – seeing how much of your life you are wasting might urge you to do something about it.

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Running on coffee

Being a coffee addict is kind of a stylish addiction nowadays, but it’s not that innocent as it may initially seem. Besides addiction being a problem in itself, drinking too much coffee (more than 500-600 mg of caffeine a day) may lead to nervousness, insomnia, an upset stomach, a fast heartbeat, and even muscle tremors.[2]

As a solution, try switching to tea or edible coffee – a more sustainable, healthy, and productivity-enhancing alternative. For example, Coffee Pixels are solid coffee bars that generate a more even energy kick throughout the day without the coffee-induced abstinence and dehydration.

Procrastination

Fighting procrastination requires some serious willpower. If it is a problem in your daily life or work, try ”eating the frog” in the morning – get over your biggest or hardest tasks first, then tackle everything else.

Alternatively, use time tracking software to monitor exactly how much time you waste on unproductive actions, websites or apps. Once you know exactly how much time you’re spending unproductively, try to limit your time on social media, for example to just 20 minutes per day.

If nothing else works, try bribing yourself — promise yourself to do something fun or pleasant when you finish your assignment.

Whichever habit you want to give up, consider using some habits building tools to make a contract with yourself and reward yourself for milestones achieved.

5. Stop over-consuming

We live in the age of consumerism – huge manufacturers with their promise of a comfortable life on the one hand, and growing environmental threats – that are the direct result of our modern lifestyle – on the other hand. There’s only one solution – try to consume less whenever and wherever you can.

Before making additional purchases, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I really need it? Did I need it yesterday?
  • Can’t I buy it used or borrow it from friends?
  • Can I rent it?
  • Can I make it myself?
  • Am I buying the most sustainable version of this product?

For example, check if the brand you chose is conscious about the environment, for example, are the products they manufacture energy efficient? Do they try to use less packaging?

Also, if you often find yourself buying too many groceries, promise to buy only the amount that fits in one shopping bag (that you bring along). If you often forget to take your shopping bag with you, get yourself a 2-in-1 wallet with a built-in shopping bag for more eco-friendly shopping.

6. Learn to Unplug from Your Phone

Today’s world is crammed with information, and many people struggle to keep focus on what’s truly important. There’s just too much going on in the world – too much to read, to watch, to know, too many conversations to participate in.

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But how to refuse the temptation to check the phone and start using social media in a controlled, not a compulsive way?

Some tips for managing your phone-dependency:

Spend only a limited amount of battery per day

For example, start your day with 50% battery life, and manage your phone usage so that you’ll make it till the evening.

Block distracting apps and notifications on your phone and computer

Choose one-hour, two-hour or longer blocking sessions and enjoy the positive impact this will have on your mood and productivity.[3]

Set your phone on flight mode

When you start doing an important task that requires full focus, set your phone on flight mode so that nobody can disturb you.

Leave your phone at home or in the office when you go for lunch

You’ll see that the feeling of being unreachable for a moment is actually very liberating.

The Bottom Line

As a new year begins, we’re all excitedly looking forward to what adventures await ahead of us.

But this year, promise yourself this:

Instead of having a never-ending list of tasks and commitments, focus on the truly meaningful ones. And cross-out all the rest without feeling guilty.

Less is more. Make this year count. We’re all rooting for you.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Lark via unsplash.com

Reference

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