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What is a Habit? Can they be changed?

A habit is a regularly performed action that we take, usually without thinking. Some people say they have a bad habit of biting their nails, having an extra dessert after dinner, smoking, or binge watching television. Oftentimes, people find their habits uncontrollable and therefore believe that they cannot be changed. Since we perform these habits subconsciously, it is hard to begin the process of modifying them. However, once we break down the components of what makes up a habit, we can begin to change them.


Let’s look at what a habit actually is. A habit is a shortcut behaviour, where your mind automatically responds to a stimuli in a certain way. A habit is a cycle consisting of a cue, a routine and a reward, this is called the habit loop. The cue is what signals your body to respond in a certain way, the routine is your response and the reward is what you gain from performing the habit.


To change a habit, you must first identify the cue that triggers your habit. In the instance of nail biting, maybe your cue is feeling bored, your routine is biting your nails, and your reward is feeling less bored. The key to utilizing this cycle is knowing which elements to change. To begin changing a habit using the cue, routine and reward cycle, you must keep the cue and the reward the same, while changing the routine- the routine in this instance being nail biting. For example, to change this habit one may discover that reading provides them with the same reward as nail biting, ie. feeling less bored. Now, with this new routine in mind, your new habit cycle will consist of the cue of feeling bored, the routine of reading and the reward of feeling less bored. This new habit of reading instead of nail biting yields the same outcome but has now transformed your once bad habit into a good one. Once understood, this notion can be applied to many larger concepts, even within the mental health context. For example, possibly you have a tendency to have emotional outbursts after bottling up emotions for too long. In this instance, your cue would be realizing you have bottled up emotions, the routine would be lashing out and the reward would be feeling better. What if you could change this habit by replacing your routine of lashing out, with a new habit such as journaling. This would mean that the new loop consists of the cue of realizing you have bottled up emotions, the routine of journaling and the reward of feeling better. The theory of the habit loop may be beneficial to those learning different coping mechanisms and strategies. The habit loop is customizable and changeable at any time. Through exploration of different routines that are signaled by the same cue and yield the same rewards, people can learn to train themselves to respond differently and create new ways of living. Although tough and exploratory at the beginning, the more you practice your new habit loop the easier and more automatic it will become. The loop allows you to change your

behaviour, these behaviors will become habits, your habits are your routines, and your routine’s compose most of your day to day life.


Book a session to work with our team to help improve your habits


To read more about habit formation and the cue, routine and reward cycle refer to the book “The power of Habit” Written by Charles Duhigg

https://www.amazon.com/Power-Habit-What-Life-Business/dp/081298160X


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