What exactly is a habit?
According to good ol’ Wikipedia, “a habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.” So, any and every subconscious task you do throughout your day can be considered a habit.
Habits are everywhere, from how and when you make your morning coffee to late night snacking and how frequently you exercise. While smoking and nail biting are considered “bad” habits, morning routines and daily journaling are considered “good” habits.
Since habits are the behaviors of the subconscious mind, hacking into them is a powerful way to alter your consciousness and transform your life. This may sound dramatic; how is it possible for little choices to make such a big impact?
The science behind the power of habit
Mahatma Gandhi sums up the power of habit quite nicely:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”
In this context, each decision we make is already created by a stream of consciousness. Or, as Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, likes to call it, a mental “cue” that stimulates our habitual choices. So, our habits aren’t just one-off choices, but are a way for our minds to create subconscious roadmaps so it can hit cruise control. Really, habits are just like automating our behaviors.
Our minds automate our repetitive routines with the intention to clear time for other, more important tasks. While this idea is great in theory, most of us end up living life on cruise control, making the same choices that yield the same results day-after-day, even though we have a desire to change or amount to more.
While habits are extremely powerful and really shape the framework of our lives, they are not impossible to change. With effort, patience and some discipline, you can change your habits and transform your life.
Five ways to change your habits
Whether you want to live more intentionally, learn a new skill, commit to a daily yoga practice, or kick a craving, hacking into your habits is a great way to bring results. But, how exactly do you change your subconscious habits?
- Acknowledge the habit you want to break or form
Understanding which habit you want to break or form is crucial for inspiring change. Now is the time to truly understand your “why.” Why do you want to stop scrolling on your phone first thing in the morning? Why do you want to meditate daily for five minutes?
- Understanding your “cues”
If you want to break a habit, it’s important to understand your “cue.” What signals your habit? Is it a time of day? An emotional state? A person?
The more you understand your habits, the more you can control them. Once you know your cue, you can actively make different decisions to disrupt your routine habits. For example, if you tend to crave sugar at 10pm, try disrupting your automation by taking a 10 minute stroll instead.
- Recognize your craving
Cravings are the fuel to habits. Habitual smokers crave nicotine, regular gym-goers crave athlete’s euphoria, coffee lovers crave that caffeine rush. We perform habits because we crave something and cues set off those cravings. What is it that you crave?
- Hone down on your response
When these cravings come, what do you do? Response is the action part of habits. When that cue comes and it sets off your craving, what choice do you make next? Subconsciously, it’s your habit. But, if you’re trying to break a habit, then actively altering your response is critical.
- Understand your reward
We perform habits because we are craving a reward. We go through the same subconscious routine day-after-day just to receive the same reward. But, are your current habits the best way to receive this reward? If you’re craving an escape or a way to relieve stress, surely there’s a better way to go about it than smoking.
It’s never too late to break or create a new habit, no matter your age or how intensely you are “stuck in your ways.” By understanding the essence of your habits, you are equipping yourself with the tools to change them. When we understand the power of habits, we can not only change our life, but truly strive towards the growth we desire.