The Science of Habits

Habits are behaviours that are incorporated into our daily routine, often carried out with some regularity and are likely to be done unconsciously as a reaction to the triggers in our environment. They are our mental shortcuts to engaging in habitual activity.

Although they are mostly unconscious acts, we do have an element of control when it comes to habits. There are certain common “mechanics” to all of them that we can use to introduce positive changes into our lives. Charles Duhigg called it the “Habit Loop”.

Habit Loop

The Habit Loop explains how habits work and consists of three fundamental parts: the cue, the routine and the reward.

Firstly, the cue. The cue or trigger for a habit can be anything from a place or a person, to a specific time or an emotion. Whatever it is, the cue triggers your brain to engage in the habitual activity.

Secondly, the routine. This is essentially the behaviour with which you routinely react to the cue and that is usually unconscious.

Finally, the reward. This part of the habit loop is what makes your brain think that what you have done has been worthwhile. Reward reinforces the routine, making it more likely that you remember to repeat it.

The habit building formula

Now, let’s look at the formula for, hopefully, successful habit building, based on habit loop principles.

Imagine, you want to build some self-care and restorative acts, like deep breathing, into your daily activities.

First, you should find a cue, something that you know you always do, like making a cup of tea (or coffee).

Decide that every time before you take your first sip you will take three deep breaths into your belly – your new routine. And do it.

Your reward will be the relaxation and relief you feel in your whole body. And if that’s not enough, you’ll be rewarded with your cup of tea too.

Eventually, you will eliminate the need for a cue because deep belly breathing will start to become a natural part of your daily life.

Be realistic though, it will take time for a new habit to become part of your routine. How long? There are a variety of different theories out there that range from 21 days to 90 days.

The overall message though, is that if you want to ingrain a new habit into your life, it is going to take effort and repetition over several weeks or months. And the right attitude.

The Right Mindset

Having motivation is crucial on this life changing journey of fostering healthier habits. You need to have the right mindset to make changes to your routine:

Desire:You must have a genuine inner need to make changes. Don’t try to do something because of others’ opinions. With a strong desire to achieve your goal, you will feel motivated and get back on track when things don’t go quite so right.

Intention:Commitment and understanding of what it will take to achieve your goal are crucial. You need to accept that changing habits can be challenging. Realistic expectations will help you avoid feeling frustrated along the way and give you the motivation you need to adjust your approach with your final goal in mind.

Action plan:Make sure you know what you must do to achieve your goal and how to do it in the most effective way. Having a plan means that we are in control of the situation. It means that we can hold ourselves accountable, check our progress and measure success. Also, with the right desire and intention, we can remain flexible with our plan, adjusting it along the way.