“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.”
– John Dryden
I’ve spent the last couple of years examining and refining my habits.
My experimentation has convinced me wholeheartedly that habits define the outcome of our lives.
Successful people reflect the result of consistently practicing successful habits.
A lot of people say you can fake it ’till you make it. I don’t typically agree with that, but I could make a case for it. I don’t think you should fake anything – you should just be it. Obviously it is impossible to be something completely out of reach overnight. And simply emulating someone successful just makes you look like a phony. What you should do instead is emulate the habits of people who have accomplished what you want. That is, in my opinion, the best way to fake it ’till you make it.
Last year I wrote an article called The Power of Habits. At the time, I had no idea that there was a book written with a nearly identical title – The Power of Habit. This is a great book that I recommend reading. It turns out I was only scratching the surface. Although, I will say, I covered an angle of habits that wasn’t even mentioned in this in-depth book.
The process of a habit exists as a three-step loop.
First you have a cue, which is what triggers the habit. Then you have a routine, which can be physical, mental, or emotional. Then finally, you have a reward which helps your brain decide if you should make this routine a habit.
This is the trigger that switches your brain into autopilot. The cue tells your brain which habit to use and also creates a craving for the reward.
The routine is the actual habit. It’s what you automatically think to do (or do without thinking) in response to the cue. The physical routines such as eating candy or smoking a cigarette are obvious. The mental and emotional routines often go unnoticed.
The reward is what you get for performing the routine. The more satisfying the reward, the more likely your brain is to form a habit based on the routine.
To bring this home I will give a couple of examples.
A common habit loop for smokers happens after they eat a meal. Smoking a cigarette knocks out the full, sluggish feeling from eating a big meal.
So the cue would be finishing a meal. The routine is smoking a cigarette. The reward is feeling re-energized.
One thing that gets in the way of weight loss goals is the tendency to eat fast food too often. Many people get off work, are tired from the day and don’t feel like going home and preparing a meal. So what do they do? Grab a quick meal on the way home. Just today though…
So the cue would be driving home from work, feeling hungry and tired. The routine is to stop and buy a fast food meal. The reward is convenience.
Habits Are a Gift and a Curse
The process of habit formation exists to make our life easier. So then why are bad habits such a pain in the ass? Because we have abused the system.
No matter what you believe created us, there is no denying that our bodies operate on systems. The cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, etc.
These systems exist to allow us to use our minds more freely. It would be incredibly distracting if we had to consciously think about breathing, pumping blood, digesting food and so on. We have systems in place to handle everything automatically.
That’s exactly what habits are, a system. However, unlike pumping blood, we actually play a bigger role in the system of habits.
We created the majority of our habits consciously at some point.
You don’t just happen to accidentally stumble into McDonalds every day, year after year and gain 150 lbs without noticing. No, at one point in time you made a decision to try it for the first time. Then you decided to eat it again and again until the habit was formed and after that you went on autopilot.
I used to have a habit of drinking energy drinks before road trips. If I knew I was going to be driving for 3+ hours I would crave an energy drink. It all started when I was DJ’ing and I would have to drive my equipment back to the warehouse after shows in all hours of the early morning. I usually got back to the warehouse between 3-5 AM.
In fact, I still get that craving to this day, because habits are like fat cells – once we create them the first time, they never go away. (That’s why gaining fat you once lost is so incredibly easy. The cells never go away, they just shrink.) Like fat cells, we can also shrink a habit to the point that it no longer has power over us.
Habits can’t be erased, they must be replaced. So now when I have to make a long drive I walk into the gas station and buy a Muscle Milk instead of a Monster. Long days of driving became so common when I was working in the oil industry that I would’ve drank gallons of energy drinks a month if I hadn’t replaced the routine.
The Universe has a way of keeping everything balanced. Good and evil, black and white, positive and negative.
I would say that, in general, it is a universal law that anything that is quick and easy isn’t good for us. In the case of food we know that preparing a balanced meal with whole foods takes more time and effort than buying fast food. The same goes for business. Those that cut corners never stand the test of time.
It’s the duality of life.
Yet we always crave what is quick and easy.
This is why I say that the habit system is a gift and a curse. The fact that we can build habits is a gift. The curse is that creating bad habits is way easier than creating good habits. The end result is that we have to work harder for better results.
We will never control the system without understanding the process.
Once you understand the process of habit formation, you can manipulate it in your favor.
I’m going to talk about that and a lot more in the following posts.
For now, I want you to only focus on understanding the process in your own life. I want you to look at all of your good and bad habits. Break them down into the 3 stages of the habit loop. Practice identifying the cue, routine and reward. Especially look for the mental and emotional habits that get overlooked.
Are you someone who feels guilty when you spend money? Do you walk into a room with lots of people and feel anxiety, despite not having a logical reason to? These are all habits you created at one point in life. It could’ve been years or even decades ago.
Analyze the process and see what you can learn about yourself.
I know a lot of my readers are introverted (based on the traffic to my introvert articles) so you might be hesitant to leave a comment. However, you are doing yourself and the community a big disservice. Do someone else a favor and break down a habit loop that you’ve never fully understood until now. You never know who else is struggling with the same thing.
In the next article we are going to look at how we can use the habit loop to replace a bad habit with a good one. Or you can skip ahead by reading The Power of Habit on your own.
Until Next Time,
P.S. You can now read the follow-up article Habit Loop Manipulation: How to Replace Bad Habits
99 Habits For Those Who Want it All
This FREE guide includes 99 action steps to get in shape, feel excited to start the day, and accomplish more in less time!
What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments below.
Never miss out on new posts like this by subscribing to my newsletter!