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 Gaining control over bad habits involves identifying routines, experimenting with rewards, isolating triggers, and having a plan

Faith WoodWhen we talk about habits, most of us immediately reflect on those we wish to break or remove. Habits like smoking, overeating, alcohol consumption, gambling, chewing one’s nails, etc., seem an easy pattern to fall into, but stopping them somehow seems so much harder.

We start out with great intentions towards daily exercise and wise food consumption, yet, over time, we often fall back into our old ingrained habits. This causes us to believe that it is virtually impossible to stop our self-sabotaging habits, and yet, each year, millions of people do just that!

Fortunately, habits are not all negative. In sports, we recognize that success is contingent on positive habit formations. Swimmer Michael Phelps, for example, won 16 Olympic medals throughout his career.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business, sets out to prove that positive habit formation played a big part in that.

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Duhigg describes in great detail the strategies Phelps deployed on race days, including the prescribed habits (rituals) that prepared Phelps mentally to provide an added and winning edge. As high-level athletes focus their thoughts, they also learn to control their physical actions. It becomes automatic or habitual.

But mental focus is not just for athletes; these skills and techniques can be incorporated and utilized to create astounding results in other areas of our lives – business, recreational and relationships.

Each of these habits is sparked by a different cue (trigger) and offers a unique reward. Let’s take smoking, for example: smokers have defined triggers that spark them to light a cigarette – usually without much conscious thought. The phone rings – they light up. It’s time for a coffee break – they light up. They are socializing or relaxing after work – they light up. Duhigg sets out to prove that recognizing both the triggers (cues) and the payoffs (rewards) allows us to change or amend those unconscious habits.

He shares story after story of real people deciding to modify a habit by identifying the cues and rewards and then finding alternatives to their ingrained habits. From Starbucks to Alcoholics Anonymous, from the National Football League to the justice system, systems of habits are explored and investigated. Duhigg argues that ‘the way we habitually think about our surroundings and ourselves creates the world that we live in. If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.’

As a hypnotherapist and behavioural coach, I often encourage my clients to understand that habits are difficult to break but easy to switch. It is possible to adjust our habits by switching out the activity that occurs after the trigger and before the reward.

At the end of his book, Duhigg provides some easy-to-follow advice on how to identify the patterns that aren’t working for you in your life and begin the quest to change them. With time and effort, almost any habit can be transformed, and the author believes he has identified the framework to do just that:

1)    Identify the routine
2)    Experiment with rewards
3)    Isolate the cue (trigger)
4)    Have a plan

With this simple framework, Charles Duhigg believes that you can begin to gain power over any habit.

Faith Wood is a professional speaker, author, and certified professional behaviour analyst. Prior to her speaking and writing career, she served in law enforcement, which gives her a unique perspective on human behaviour and motivations. Faith is also known for her work as a novelist, with a focus on thrillers and suspense. Her background in law enforcement and understanding of human behaviour often play a significant role in her writing.

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