If picking up and maintaining new good habits were easy, those habits would already be in our lives. Sometimes it’s really hard to reprogram our auto-pilot systems and replace them with new habits. Willpower alone doesn’t always work, so if you’re scared you’d return to old habits, below are a few tips to consider.
1) Use ‘Loss aversion’ to your advantage. Loss aversion theory suggests that the pain of losing a dollar is more than the pleasure of acquiring one. So let’s say, you make a promise that every time you return to your bad habit, you’re going to give out a dollar. For some people, that might be enough to make them stop.
While the idea is appealing, if the dollar is given away for a good cause, it is easy to mentally ‘win’ in both situations. If you don’t return to your habit, you don’t lose the dollar. If you do return to your old habit, you give the dollar away to charity (which is not so bad). That would render this method useless in controlling your habits. Some popular authors, like Chris Bailey author of “New Year’s Resolutions Guideline” suggest that you give the money to a cause you don’t like so it would feel like a punishment and make you stop.
2) Make plans around inflection points; points where the temptation to quit is strongest. This was mentioned before in this blog but I shall reiterate. In his book, ‘The Power of Habits’ Charles Duhigg writes about a study to find out the type of people who were mostly likely to fail in rehabilitation after undergoing hip or knee surgery. The participants were given a booklet with details of the rehab schedule, and blank spaces after “My goals for this week are….” They found out that patients who recovered more quickly were those who filled their booklets with plans, and their plans focused on how they would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. The idea was also covered in Psyblog, ”Make a very specific ‘if-then’ plan.” Anticipate weak points in the plan where you could fail and make detailed plans around that.
Inflection points could appear when your daily schedule is disrupted like when you travel for holidays. It’s very easy to quit new habits and relapse to old habits since it’s “Just for one month.” So it is imperative that people plan ahead.
3) Peer pressure is a very powerful force that always gets blamed for bad habits. So why don’t we use it to reinforce good habits? Let’s say your resolution is to read one book per month. You could join a monthly book club, and that commitment could push you to read. Alternatively, just have a virtual reading partner you could discuss a particular book with every months.
The most important thing to remember is that breaking out of old habits is difficult. Habits form neural pathways in your brain and restructuring them is no easy feat. So if you ever fall back into your old habits, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, learn to forgive yourself.
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In the book, The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg talks about the habit loop, which is like a computer code that starts with the 1)Cue, then moves to the 2)Habit and ends with the 3)Reward. Craving for the reward keeps the code running in an infinite loop, until you reprogram it or break it.
I’ve mentioned all that in a previous note, but an interesting thing the author mentions is how making significant changes in life doesn’t require conscious reprograming of dozens of habit codes. Some habits are more important than others and are called “keystone habits.” Making changes in these keystone habits initiate changes in other subroutines in your other habits code, so for non-programmers, it’s like dropping the first tile in a dominos game, causing other tiles to drop and changing habits in other areas of a person’s life.
One keystone habit is “Exercise”. Duhigg writes, “People who exercise start eating better and become more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed.”
So with experience one could learn what habits are keystone habits in their lives and focus on those primarily.
Until then I guess we should start exercising ;-).