Changing habits: how?

Updated: Jul 18

Changing habits is never easy. Very often, habits have been built upon years of behaviours, self-beliefs and reward feelings.

According to Charles Duhigg, the author of 'The Power of Habit', every habit follows a structure called 'the habit loop', that consists of the following three steps:


  1. A CUE: which is a 'stimuli' that triggers the habit. It can be: an emotional state, a location (being in a specific place), a time, other people, or an immediate preceding action (getting home after work triggers the routine of taking your coat off for example!).

  2. A ROUTINE: that's the action (or reaction!) that follows the cue.

  3. A REWARD: this is what you get form the action/routine: it is often an emotional reward.


Let's take the example of snacking on chocolate (and I'm talking of my own habit here):


You see chocolate in your cupboard (the cue) -> so you eat the chocolate (the routine) -> and you feel better because the act of eating this chocolate has released dopamine in your brain, the 'feel good' hormone (the reward).


If you look at every habit you have, it's very likely they will all have these 3 constituents. So now, how to change that? Well, there is no secret formula to apply or use to get rid of a habit or change it, however there are a few tools you can use, a framework to follow:

First, you have to keep in mind that changing habits takes time. Don't try to change several habits at once, you're more likely to not sustain these changes. Focus on one single habit to change, but commit to that change. Once you have succeeded, you can then add/change another habit and slowly build a healthier lifestyle.


1. The first step is to identify and become mindful of the habit: it's quite obvious, but you can't change a habit if you are not aware of it. So identify the habit you want to change, and think about it: When has it started? How does it take place? How is it affecting your life?

Then, habits can be changed by either removing cues that trigger the routine or by replacing the 'bad' routine with a 'good' one.


2. Removing the cues that trigger the habit. Coming back to that chocolate example: if you don't buy chocolate in the first place, it's not going to get in your cupboard trying to tempt you. So removing that cue is going to break the habit loop and you're less likely to eat chocolate (unless you decide to go out and buy some, but that's some commitment!). Remember, cues can be various, so make sure you identify the real cue that is triggering your habit.


3. Replace the 'bad' routine by a healthier alternative. If you find it too difficult to stop buying chocolate for now, maybe instead of buying a sugary, low-quality milk chocolate you can swap it for an organic, dark chocolate. You might not be stopping your habit yet, but at least you have changed it to a healthier one, that is going to affect less your health and your blood sugar balance for example.


4. Finally, change the reward. This can be as simple as having this new powerful healthy feeling you get after making a positive choice or allowing yourself a 'healthy' reward instead.



These steps can also be used to CREATE NEW HABITS. If you want to start exercising for example, you need to create a cue: it might be by getting your outfit and trainers ready by your bed in the evening, so when you wake up the next morning, you are more likely to react to that trigger and exercise. Or if you want to eat more healthy, by buying green vegetables to fill your fridge with, so when you open the fridge you are more motivated and likely to cook them!


The truth is, only you can come up with the right cues, because you know yourself better than anyone else!

If you would like to read learn more about habits and how they are created, I strongly recommend the book ' The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg.


Now that you've got a few tools at hand, what is the one habit you would like to change?


Raihane x

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Copyright © 2020 by Raihane Palagi, DipCNM mBANT. All Rights Reserved.

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