Habit is such a powerful force in our daily lives, but the problem is, most of us haven’t learned how to harness the power of habit. Instead of using habit as a tool to grow ourselves into more successful, happy, well rounded individuals, we let habit dominate our lives through consistent poor action.

Webster defines habit as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, esp. one that is hard to give up.” While it’s true that habits are hard to give up, they aren’t impossible to give up. Read on and I’ll show you exactly how to do it.

We can use habit in so many ways. Do you and your girlfriend constantly argue with each other? That’s a habit. Do you continually find yourself scarfing down chocolate chip cookies? That’s a habit. Is it impossible for you to show up anywhere on time? That’s a habit. Are you consistently looking at your bank account seeing way less money than you anticipated because you overspent on your last trip to the mall? That’s a habit. All of those are habits! But the good thing is, you have the power to change them.

I read a terrific book by Charles Duhigg titled, “The Power of Habit” and it blew my mind on how the human mind works and how habits are built. You can pick up a copy here. I’ve shared some of what I learned from that book below.

Every habit you have, whether good or bad, is a loop composed of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. Changing your habits is based on your ability to identify and alter those three parts. You must first identify your routine, then experiment with the rewards, isolate the cue, and then create a plan.

This post will focus solely on identifying the routine and experimenting with the rewards. I will write on the last two steps in future posts.

1) Identify the Routine

This is probably the easiest part of the four steps. The routine is simply the behavior that you want to change. Say for instance you have a bad habit of biting your nails while watching television. Even though you know biting your nails increases your risk of contracting infections and colds,every time you plop down in front of that T.V. your hand raises your mouth and your start chomping away. That’s the routine that you put into your loop.

2) Experiment with Rewards

Rewards play an important role because they satisfy cravings, and cravings are what drives our habits. So the reward is the great feeling you experience from completing your routine. What makes things difficult, is that we typically aren’t aware of the cravings that are motivating our behaviors and habits. In order to identify which cravings are driving your habits, you should experiment with different rewards by adjusting your routine. Whoa, super technical I know, but here’s what I mean by that.

Let’s use the example above of biting your nails while watching television. The next time you have the urge to bite your nails, switch up the routine! Do something ELSE instead of biting your nails! Take out your phone and browse through your twitter feed. Change the channel to something else. Maybe you crack your knuckles or hum a song. Chew a piece of gum. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something other than biting your nails!

The point is to see which craving is driving your nail biting routine. Is it the physical pleasure of biting your nails? Or are you simply looking for a way to keep your hands busy? (Cracking your knuckles gets the job done.) Or maybe you just want something to chew on? (Which means the gum would be a good replacement.)

As you alter your routine and experiment with the rewards, take note of the first three things that come to your mind, whether they be emotions, thoughts, or random nonsense. Then wait several minutes and ask yourself if you still feel the urge to bite your nails?

If a few minutes after chewing a piece of gum, you still have the urge to bite your nails, then your habit isn’t motivated by the urge to chew on something. If a few minutes after browsing through your phone, you still have the urge to bite your nails, then your habit isn’t motivated by the urge to be distracted. If a few minutes after cracking your knuckles, you don’t have the urge to bite your nails, then you know your habit is motivated by the need  to keep your hands busy. Get the idea?

Again, by testing different rewards, you will eventually find what craving is actually driving your habit.

What’s Next?

I’ll continue on with this process in my next post. In the meantime, start working on this part. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit“, so if we really want to unleash our full potential and live life to the fullest, we have to become the master of our habits instead of the other way around.

I mean, just ask yourself how many times your habits, whether good or bad, have profoundly impacted your life? If you have a habit of procrastinating and half ass-ing your way through life, chances are you’re not in as good of a position as you could be. On flip side, if you’ve consistently shown strong work ethic and a dedication to success through use of empowering habits, then chances are you’re on a pathway to a meaningful, fulfilling life.

The choice is yours. Take action!

Read part two here! 

QUESTION: What bad habits do you have that you would like to change? Could you see this model being an effective way to change that bad habit? 

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