A New Perspective on Habits

We probably have habits we would like to change. There are three parts to habits that make them stick, or hard to break.

The first part of a habit is the cue. The cue (1) is the trigger to your brain to perform an automatic behavior. The cue can be anything from a person, a time of day, or an advertisement, to a set of circumstances.

The cue leads to the routine (2), or habit. The brain gets a reward when the habit or routine is performed.

The reward (3) is the experience the brain is looking for, like comfort or stimulation. This is where the saying comes from: what fires together wires together. These automatic pathways in the brain may quickly set, if the reward is powerful enough, like an addiction.

People may try to stop a bad habit by removing the routine. As an example, a smoker tries to break the habit by throwing away the cigarettes. The better approach to break the habit in the long term is to focus on the cue as well as the routine.

As an example, if you feel that spending time on social media is a habit you’d like to break, you may find it better to pick up a book or newspaper to read when the urge strikes. You might also break the habit by changing the cue. If you find yourself stopping at the doughnut shop on the way to work, then change the route to make the doughnut shop less convenient.

Two good books on habits are The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and Atomic Habits by James Clear.

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