Dan and the office staff of TRADEMUTT have noticed a change in Ed over the last year. At first it was indistinguishable, but day-by-day it was hard to ignore, Ed’s gut was disappearing. Also, Ed was chirpier and more relaxed (if that is possible) then usual. Dan gazed intently at Ed one afternoon and asked “what is the secret to this new fabulous you..?” Ed fixed his eye thoughtfully into the distance and remarked, “Dan, it all comes down to a simple, yet very powerful concept, I have changed some of my habits.”
Ed’s Transformation Story
Ed felt like crap at the beginning of 2020 and he needed to make some changes. He was over weight, felt tired and overwhelmed by demands. Ed started slow, instead of hitting the snooze button at 6.30am and sleeping to 7 he got up and started to regularly exercise. Ed got accustomed to the early rise and pushed his waking time to 5.15am. This early start resulted in making breakfast at home instead of grabbing something from a café before work. It also meant he could organise a healthy snack and lunch for work. Ed now replaced his normal trip to the servo to buy his sweet chilli chips and a coke at 3pm with a trip to office fridge where he enjoyed healthy options. Also, Ed ate at regular intervals during the day.
After sorting out his morning routine Ed tackled his night routine. Accustomed to overeating large meals of pasta with creamed sauces, Ed found he was not as hungry at night, a consequence of eating well during the day. Ed found it was easy to replace his large pasta meals to greens and lean meats. Ed’s usual schooner was replaced with water. Instead of bingeing on Netflix till he fell asleep at 10pm, Ed fixed his bedtime for 8.30 where he read till 9pm then lights out.
Ed has found that it wasn’t just his body that has benefited from his new routine he is more alert, has increased energy and is generally happier.
The Habit Loop
The process of forming a habit is a three-step circular system within our brains. Habits begin with a cue, or a trigger that signals to your brain to go into “automatic.” A cue can be a time of day (such as Ed’s 3pm snack break), sound, smell, or feeling. Once the cue is triggered, there is the routine, or the response, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional. Ed’s routine is the walk to the car, driving to the servo and purchasing the coke and sweet chilli chips. Lastly, there is the reward, which helps your mind figure out if this loop is worth recalling for the future. With time, this loop becomes more and more automatic. The cue and the reward become interconnected until your brain anticipates the reward as soon as it hears, sees, or touches the cue. In this way, the routine action becomes a habit – a powerful craving for a reward whenever the trigger is activated.
Scientists argue that you cannot get rid of habits. Rather, you must work to replace them. The way to learn how to do this is to figure out what the reward is for each cue that triggers a routine. For instance, is Ed's reward the snack? or is it a needed break from boredom at a lull in the day? If Ed is truly hungry, then the 3pm cue to go to the snack bar can be followed by the routine of going to the office refrigerator and taking out a prepared snack such as some hummus and vegetables. However, if the reward is a break from boredom, Ed need not eat at all at 3pm. Rather, getting up and taking a 5-minute walk around the block or the building would provide the same reward. Below is a diagram of the habit loop.
With time, this loop becomes more and more automatic. The cue and the reward become interconnected until your brain anticipates the reward as soon as it hears, sees, or touches the cue. In this way, the routine action becomes a habit – a powerful craving for a reward whenever the trigger is activated.
The Power of Habit
Charles Duhigg argues in his best selling book, that most of the choices we make each day may feel like products of well-considered decision making. In reality, they are not. He explains: They are habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to our kids each night, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organise our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our heath, productivity, financial security, and happiness.
One paper published by a Duke University researcher found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits. Duhigg’s research not only explains why habits work, but also how habits change. With an understanding of what habits are and then how you can change them, you can truly improve your life one baby step at a time.
Habits are not fixed in stone. Duhigg writes, “Habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced.” However, habits are so powerful because unless you actively work on fighting that habit, your brain stops fully participating in decision-making and focuses on other tasks. Simply put, unless you create new routines, the original habit (or routine) will progress automatically. The more we understand about habits, the easier they are to break down into their individual parts and change in order to lead happier, more fulfilled lives.
The trick is not to get rid of habits, but to create ones that are more in line with our needs and values. After all, without habits such as many of our morning routines and nightly rituals, we would be consumed by the minutiae of our everyday lives. Even basic activities would seem daunting if we did not have an automatic routine to fall back on. Therefore, the goal is to change existing negative habits into ones that work within our desired lifestyles.
Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple. But it is possible. During this period of covid where our routines have been broken we need to be aware of establishing new ones so our mental health does not deteriorate.
If you are struggling do not hesitate to call or text TIACS on 0488 846 988