As you probably already know, forming healthy habits is essential to living a healthy lifestyle, however this is often easier said than done. At work we are currently partnering with Dr. Judson Brewer who is a neuroscientist, addiction psychiatrist, and author. We have been introduced to a concept called the "habit loop" which is really eye opening, and has helped various individuals break through their bad habits and be successful with forming healthy habits. Below you will find some high level insight on this. My hope is that introducing this to you will support you with being more aware and mindful of your habits, and maybe even prompt you to take action if desired.
What is a Habit Loop?
A habit has three elements including: a trigger; a behavior; and a result.
Trigger: This is what starts the habit. It can be an emotion; thought; physical sensation; or something you see.
Behavior: This is the habit itself. It can be a physical behavior like binge eating or spending too much time on your phone. It can also be a mental behavior such as self judgement; overthinking; or excessively worrying.
Result: This is how you feel after the behavior. It might feel good at first, and then maybe not feel so good in the long run.
An example of this would be: You get stressed (trigger); then you start eating a lot of potato chips or chocolate (behavior); and at first you feel satisfied while eating the chips, but then an hour later you might be feeling bloated; lethargic; and guilty (result).
Here are two examples of my personal habit loops I have mapped out:
I get stressed and overwhelmed at work (trigger); then I start worrying and overthinking and don't take any of my breaks (behavior); at first I feel like I'm doing something good because I'm working on getting things done on my to do list, but then I am left feeling exhausted, anxious, and I am actually less productive due to the mental fog.
I get bored (trigger); then I do some online shopping (behavior); at first I feel excited for the new outfit that I just bought, but then I feel guilty that I bought it and worried about my finances (result).
How do I Break a Bad Habit?
Simply by breaking down your bad habit into the three elements of trigger; behavior; and result, you can begin to discover how the habit begins, and how unrewarding it is for you. This is ‘’new information’’ that is delivered to your brain, and it is essential for breaking bad habits. Here are some steps to support you with this:
Ask yourself "What is one behavior I would like to change?" (It could be: I want to exercise more; eat less junk food; not binge watch Netflix as much; etc.)
Ask yourself "What do I get from this behavior that makes me want to change it?" (This question is tapping into the result, and the "why"/ motivation behind wanting to make a change. It could be: weight gain; feeling bloated; anxiety; depression; financial issues; etc.)
Ask yourself "What causes me to do this behavior?" (This question is tapping into the trigger. Think of thoughts; emotions; smells; things you see that might be triggering you; etc. It could be: stress from work; self judgement; boredom; etc.)
After you have mapped out your habit loop, consistently reflecting on how you feel after doing it will support you with wanting to do it less.
After you have mastered being mindful and curious about the unpleasant results you are getting from your behavior, then consider replacing your behavior with a healthier one and reflecting on those positive results. For example: You get stressed; instead off grabbing the potato chips you meditate, do deep breathing, or go on a walk; and then the result is you feel less stressed and more energized. If you reflect on this positive feeling you are going to want to do it more, because the reward is higher than eating the bag of potato chips.
Examples of how I have started breaking down my bad habit loops (still a work in progress):
I get stressed at work; instead of worrying, I step away from my desk and do a minute of deep breathing, a 5 minute meditation, or go on a walk (depending on the time I have); then I am more productive and less anxious when I return to my work tasks.
I get bored; I go on a walk, read, meditate, or write versus online shop; then I feel joyful and more fulfilled.
Why Does This Work?
The brain is such a powerful thing, and it is wired to form habits. If we were to go back to the caveman days, habits were formed in our brain for survival. The trigger would be hunger; the behavior would be to hunt and gather food; and the result would be getting the nutrients they need to survive. If you think of all the things we do throughout the day, it shows how important habits are. We all brush our teeth; tie our shoes; get dressed; etc. daily, and if we didn't have these habits formed it would make these small daily tasks extremely exhausting and difficult. Therefore, it is essential that our brains form habits. However, our brains are often on autopilot, because it is juggling so many different habits, which makes it hard to differentiate between the immediate result versus the long term result. For example: When you get stressed and start eating the chips it might feel good and fulfilling at first, so our brain stores this as a reward because it's not thinking of the long term benefits. That's why it's up to us to be more mindful; curious; and aware so we can rewire the brain.
If you are interested in learning more, I would recommend you to visit https://drjud.com . On his website you can find books; programs; and ted talks.
Thank you for stopping by! I hope you found this information valuable, and please don't hesitate to reach out via chat if you have any questions around this, or if you need additional support with breaking bad habits.