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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

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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Published on September 21, 2021

    How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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    How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

    The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

    In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

    1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

    Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

    But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

    Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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    Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

    Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

    While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

    Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

    2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

    At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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    Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

    Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

    Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

    McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

    From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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    3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

    An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

    McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

    Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

    Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

    Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

    So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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    The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

    If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

    Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

    Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

    Reference

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