Advertising
Advertising

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!

Advertising

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].

Advertising

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

     

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    What Is Positive Thinking and How to Always Think Positive Do You Know Your Motivation Style? A Stress-Free Way To Prioritizing Tasks And Ending Busyness How To Apply the Stages Of Learning (With Free Worksheet) What Is A Flow State And How To Achieve It For Productivity

    Trending in Habit

    1 How to Increase Willpower and Be Mentally Tough 2 How To Identify Addictive Behaviors And Get Rid of Them 3 10 Good Habits to Have in Life to Be More Successful 4 Powerful Daily Routine Examples for a Healthier Life 5 The Ultimate Morning Routine for Success of Highly Successful People

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on March 23, 2021

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

    The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

    You need more than time management. You need energy management

    1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

    How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

    Advertising

    I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

    I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

    2. Determine your “peak hours”

    Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

    Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

    Advertising

    My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

    In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

    Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

    3. Block those high-energy hours

    Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

    Advertising

    Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

    If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

    That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

    There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

    Advertising

    Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

    Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

    Read Next