Dear Reader!

I read this book some time ago and will be sharing some of the most important lessons from the book. If you want to know how I felt while reading this book, you can read my review. It would be kind of you to know how you felt about the post by commenting.

Why Habits form?

If we look at our lives, a lot of the things we do are automatic. When children learn to walk for the first time, they have a lot of trouble finding their balance so they keep trying again and again till that momentous day when the entire family is celebrating their first walk. But after this short period of time, we never forget it and we never have to think about walking anymore. It happens automatically.

Whenever we learn a new thing, driving or cooking or a dance move, our brain has to work very hard to understand it. We make mistakes and keep trying again and again. This takes a lot of brain power so in order to save resources over time what the brain does is that makes this processes automatic by making a habit out of them. A small part of the brain called basal ganglia stores our actions so that the whole brain does not have to work on a problem.

What is a Habit made of?

When you go to a store and look at soda in the refrigerator, your brain encourages you to buy it even though deep down you know that soda is not good for your health.The reason behind this is that whenever we look at something with which we associate pleasure or happiness, our brain reminds us of that feeling. It wants us to relive it. This can of soda is the cue, a trigger, that demands a response. If you eventually buy the soda, you’ll note feeling good even though you have not had the soda yet. This is the¬†reward that the brain has associated with this stimulus. These three things constitute what is called a habit loop.

Every time that you’ll look at the can of soda, you’ll want to buy it even though a lot of the times you may not have planned to do so when you came to the store. So how do we change our habits?

How do we change our habits?

The author gives a four step framework to change our habits:

  • Identify the routine
  • Identify the rewards
  • Isolate the cue
  • Have a Plan

The first step in changing any habit is that you become aware of it. Your habits are a part of your identity so unless you start looking at them as something that needs to be changed, you would not notice them. If you want to change your habit of eating snacks that are making you fat, start observing your own behavior. For example, you may have a habit of checking your phone immediately after waking up. A lot of people pick up their phones as soon as they are free and start scrolling absent mindedly. If you want to change something, acknowledge it.

The second step is determining what is the reward/pleasure/feeling that you seek with that habit. You can do this by making a list of all possible outcomes for your behavior. For example, if you find yourself automatically reaching out for your phone every time you are free, you can list down the following possible outcomes:

  • I check my phone because I want new news and content
  • I check my phone because I don’t want to miss out on anything
  • I check my phone because I don’t want to feel as if I am wasting my time

Once you have listed down the possible rewards for your behavior, you need to test them out to identify which one is the actual reward you are seeking. You do this by testing one outcome at a time. To test whether you have a craving for news or gossip or discussion, try talking to a friend instead. If after the discussion, you no longer want to check your phone, you have successfully identified your craving, otherwise keep looking.

The third step is to isolate the cue or the trigger that arouses action. Usually cues are of five types:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Emotional state
  • Immediately preceding action
  • Other people

To determine the cues for your actions, every time you observe your routine, make notes. Note down the time,location, emotional state, immediately preceding action, and the people surrounding you. After doing this for some days, a pattern will probably emerge.

The fourth step is to have a plan. Once you have identified the cues and rewards making you do something, plan ahead how you are going to react. A great way to do this is to create a sentence called an implementation intention. By writing down on a piece of paper how you will react to a stimulus/cue/trigger in the future, you make a commitment to do something. That statement will look like this:

I will [ACTION] on [TIME+DATE] in [LOCATION] for [TIME DURATION]

For example, scientists found out that people who write a statement saying when, where, and for how long they will exercise go on to actually do that stuff. Other people who simply plan or wish to do it fail most of the times. WRITE STUFF DOWN.

e.g. I will jog for 30 minutes in the park after coming back from work.

Here is a useful flowchart made by Charles Duhigg (available on his website):

HowToChangeAHabit