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Published on November 6, 2020

The Psychology of Habit Formation (And How to Hack it)

The Psychology of Habit Formation (And How to Hack it)

Our habits define our success. Yet, they seem to be out of our control. Whether you’re talking about breaking bad habits or habit formation, neither is a piece of cake.

The psychology behind habit formation is what helps us create new habits and also helps us break bad ones. If you can understand this psychology, you can fully control what you get accustomed to in life. To educate yourself more on this topic and to learn how to implement this knowledge in your life for your own good, keep reading!

How Habits Form

Habits are generally only categorized as good or bad. Most people don’t look beyond these categories and fail to recognize the true power of habits.

Our habits play a vital role in our life. From our daily routine to the rate of success, our habits determine the outcomes for the most part. Unfortunately, we tend to believe that we’re in control of our habits despite it being the other way around.

The Habit Loop

This is why it is very important to know how habits form. The process is called the habit loop.[1] It has three main components that work together for habit formation: the cue, the routine, and the reward.

The cue is a trigger that encourages the following behavior. Anything around you that reminds you of the habit or makes you want to put it in action is the cue. It can be an object, a person, a feeling, an event, a scent, or anything at all.

Next, there’s the routine. Habits aren’t just one action that’s disconnected from the rest of your actions. What comes before and after the habitual behavior is part of the habit. This is what the routine is.

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Whenever a cue triggers your habit, you’ll start following the defined routine that your brain has developed. The entire series of actions will always be the same or very similar, every time the habit is unconsciously put into action.

The reward is whatever outcome you achieve. For example, if your habit helps you feel emotionally better, that is your reward. This is something that your brain considers to be a positive outcome. Hence, you unconsciously want to repeat the habit again and again to achieve the satisfaction of the reward.

How to Break Bad Habits

All habits form the same way. The habit loop is the culprit behind bad habits but also the one to credit for good ones. Either way, since you’re aware of the process now, you can work on it to achieve the outcome you desire.

Despite unconsciously happening, if you focus on the process, you can try to break bad habits. Luckily, it’s possible with a little effort so you don’t have to be stuck with toxic habits for life.

The following tips will help you break the loop of bad habit formation.

1. Take Small Steps

The motivation to break bad habits can make you want to get rid of everything negative all at once. You may think you have all the energy it takes to erase out your bad habits in one go but neither is this possible nor is it a healthy approach.

Breaking bad habits is not a one-day task or a one-go attempt. It is a process that will take time and a lot of patience. You have to start with minor steps and stay consistent. Get rid of things that lead to bad habits one by one. Adjust your lifestyle slowly. An immediate shock may rid you of one bad habit but it can trigger many more.

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2. Focus on the Cues

Your bad habits strengthen when they are repeated. To avoid doing so, the best way is to control them from the start. For this, you need to take control of the cues. If you can keep your mind from getting triggered into putting the habit in action, you can prevent the bad habit from strengthening its presence in your life.

It will take some time for you to figure out the exact triggers. Keep an eye on the circumstances where you tend to put the bad habit into action. Then, start taking steps to control these triggers or simply eradicate the possibility of these cues from your routine. This will help you prevent negative habit formation.

3. One Habit at a Time

A lot of us have numerous bad habits that we want to get rid of. It sounds almost justified to want to get rid of all of them at once.

Just like breaking one bad habit needs time and patience, getting rid of all bad habits needs even more consistency and effort. Focus on one bad habit at a time for a higher success rate. Avoid the mental strain by breaking one bad habit at a time only.

4. Use Replacements

Habits take a noticeable space in your life and mind. When you’re trying to get rid of a bad habit, do not leave behind an empty void. Instead, replace it with something better.

For example, if you’re trying to minimize your alcohol consumption, every time you avoid a glass of alcohol, replace it with a healthier drink. This works simultaneously in breaking a bad habit and developing a good one.

How to Develop Good Habits

A corollary to the idea that habits are unconscious is that trying to make new habits consciously won’t do much for you. While it is true, there are some (easy) ways you can trick your brain. These are the things that will remind you of (trigger) better habits without a direct effort which will do the job of developing new (good) habits!

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Here are some ways you can develop good habits.

1. Identify Good Habits

We all want to have good habits, but we all have a different vision of what these good habits are. Before you start struggling to develop new habits, identify your aim. Which habits do you think are good for you, will help you in your life, and you would enjoy having in the long run? This list will keep you on track as you make the effort to get used to them.

2. Strengthen Your Willpower

Simply deciding that you want to have better habits is the easiest part of the process. However, you need a way stronger willpower to continue the process till the end. Do everything you possibly can to keep your hopes and motivation high. You’ll need it to stick to your goal, build good habits, and then (the hardest part of the process) keep them.

The process is not easy. You’ll face multiple obstacles. However, your willpower will push you to try over and over again despite repetitive failures.

3. Surround Yourself With Positive People

The best conscious way to encourage your mind to get used to things unconsciously is to have a good company. The people you surround yourself with will have a major impact on your habits. This is where you develop most of your hidden good habits.

Stay around the people whose habits you want to adopt as well. These people will also encourage you to continue struggling for a better self when you’re losing motivation and hope. Naturally, a positive company will strengthen your mind, which allows you to put in more effort in the right direction and have positive habit formation.

4. Develop a Routine

If you look back on the habit loop, there are three components. The cue and reward are two components that you cannot really control. Your brain will decide what triggers it. Similarly, your mind will feel the reward on its own, too.

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The only thing in the process you can control when it comes to developing new habits is the routine. The same routine is followed every time the habit is triggered. So, allow your brain to get used to following a specific routine that reinforces the good habit/s you want to develop.[2]

For example, if you want to make it a habit to read a book before you go to sleep, you’ll have to make a conscious effort for a while. Start by putting your smartphone aside so you’re not distracted. Turn on your bedside reading lamp and turn off all the other lights. Have a book within reach so that you don’t forget to read any day.

You’ll have to follow this routine a few times before your mind gets a hang of it. Then, gradually, you’ll get so used to reading before going to bed, and after a few weeks (sometimes months). it’ll be impossible to fall asleep without reading a few pages.

Bottom Line

If you’ve been striving for success but have been failing over and over again, it’s time to shift your focus. You’ve been blaming it on external factors and working on the wrong aspects of your life. What you need to polish are your habits so that you can consistently work towards a better future, even with unconscious behaviors.

Understanding the psychology of habit formation will help you lead a healthier, more positive, and highly successful life. So, start using these tips in your everyday life to get control over your habits!

More About Habit Building

Featured photo credit: Chander R via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on June 1, 2021

7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy (And Need to Change That)

7 Signs That You’re Way Too Busy (And Need to Change That)

“Busy” used to be a fair description of the typical schedule. More and more, though, “busy” simply doesn’t cut it.

“Busy” has been replaced with “too busy”, “far too busy”, or “absolutely buried.” It’s true that being productive often means being busy…but it’s only true up to a point.

As you likely know from personal experience, you can become so busy that you reach a tipping point…a point where your life tips over and falls apart because you can no longer withstand the weight of your commitments.

Once you’ve reached that point, it becomes fairly obvious that you’ve over-committed yourself.

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The trick, though, is to recognize the signs of “too busy” before you reach that tipping point. A little self-assessment and some proactive schedule-thinning can prevent you from having that meltdown.

To help you in that self-assessment, here are 7 signs that you’re way too busy:

1. You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Took a Day Off

Occasional periods of rest are not unproductive, they are essential to productivity. Extended periods of non-stop activity result in fatigue, and fatigue results in lower-quality output. As Sydney J. Harris once said,

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

2. Those Closest to You Have Stopped Asking for Your Time

Why? They simply know that you have no time to give them. Your loved ones will be persistent for a long time, but once you reach the point where they’ve stopped asking, you’ve reached a dangerous level of busy.

3. Activities like Eating Are Always Done in Tandem with Other Tasks

If you constantly find yourself using meal times, car rides, etc. as times to catch up on emails, phone calls, or calendar readjustments, it’s time to lighten the load.

It’s one thing to use your time efficiently. It’s a whole different ballgame, though, when you have so little time that you can’t even focus on feeding yourself.

4. You’re Consistently More Tired When You Get up in the Morning Than You Are When You Go to Bed

One of the surest signs of an overloaded schedule is morning fatigue. This is a good indication that you’ve not rested well during the night, which is a good sign that you’ve got way too much on your mind.

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If you’ve got so much to do that you can’t even shut your mind down when you’re laying in bed, you’re too busy.

5. The Most Exercise You Get Is Sprinting from One Commitment to the Next

It’s proven that exercise promotes healthy lives. If you don’t care about that, that’s one thing. If you’d like to exercise, though, but you just don’t have time for it, you’re too busy.

If the closest thing you get to exercise is running from your office to your car because you’re late for your ninth appointment of the day, it’s time to slow down.

Try these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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6. You Dread Getting up in the Morning

If your days are so crammed full that you literally dread even starting them, you’re too busy. A new day should hold at least a small level of refreshment and excitement. Scale back until you find that place again.

7. “Survival Mode” Is Your Only Mode

If you can’t remember what it feels like to be ahead of schedule, or at least “caught up”, you’re too busy.

So, How To Get out of Busyness?

Take a look at this video:

And these articles to help you get unstuck:

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Featured photo credit: Khara Woods via unsplash.com

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