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Habits: How to have habits that help us

James Clear is a writer and speaker on the topic of habits.

Included in this blog are:-

Habits - a definition

The dictionary definition is 'A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up'

Aristotle said 'We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit'

It is also said that ‘We are the sum of our habits’.

A habit is something that has been repeated enough times to make it automatic.

What habits are not

  • repeated actions without purpose

  • unbreakable

Why could you consider your habits and if they support you?

Because helpful habits support

  • a healthy mind and body

  • a happy and productive life

  • our goals and dreams

  • flexibility and resilience

There are two questions that crop up for many of us on a regular basis – and they have to do with our habits.

The questions are:

  • Why can’t I stop doing that unhelpful thing?

  • Why can’t I keep on doing that helpful thing?

It’s a funny situation as we go around in circles trying to break bad habits and failing to stick with good ones.

You could say that there are no good or bad habits, just effective and ineffective ones. All of our habits serve us in some way, they solve a problem which why they are habits.

During recent times, especially with the Covid Pandemic upsetting our routines, we have all been challenged with facing and examining how our habits either help or hinder us.

Habits are repeatable solutions to recurring problems

and are a natural process of learning.

So, we at Shared Inspiration have been looking at ways to make having helpful habits a learning process you can really stick with.

And as it is our ‘habit’ to share our learnings with you, this article gets right into how habits can be built and broken using a simple framework.

The benefits of helpful habits

We often feel as though our habits have some kind of hold over us, that they are strong, powerful and take a lot of willpower to overcome.

How many times have you set you mind to creating a really useful habit – like eating healthily or getting fit or saving money for something – only to find that the things you needed to do fell by the wayside? The willpower to resist a cake, to get to the gym, to not buy a bargain, just faded away and you fell back into the poor habits you wanted to break out of?

Whether it’s an unhelpful habit that affects the way we think or the way we behave, it can seem like a massive task to change that habit and create something more helpful. And yet, we seem to be able to make and keep to unhelpful habits really easily – what is going on?

There is a common theme to habits and that is ‘a habit that is satisfying is a habit that sticks’ This follows a logical process, something that is satisfying is repeated, something that is unsatisfying is avoided.

Habits are created over time, not overnight,

Once we understand the process that makes them we can use that process to choose to build habits that help us to achieve what we want in life.

Worried that having a life full of habits will take away from the spontaneity of life?

In fact, habits do not restrict freedom, they create it! Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.

The Habit Making Process

In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear the process of making and breaking habits is covered in detail. It reveals how the making of a habit follows a process and has a set of elements that mean it will be sustained over time.

Habits also become linked to events, emotions and environments, which means that a well-formed habit can never be completely eliminated as it will have very powerful triggers associated with it leading to a craving or desire.

For example, I have a habit of buying a large latte coffee before starting a long train journey. I don’t think about having a large latte at any other time as I am very much a tea drinker. However, every time I enter a train station I immediately think about that large latte coffee and look for somewhere to buy it. If I don’t make any train journeys then I don’t even think about it.

This example shows something else – there is trigger event that gets me thinking about the coffee and the satisfying reward of the coffee itself.. When habits become difficult to change it’s usually because there are triggers and rewards that are linked to the habit.

Habits – The Four Stages or the Habit Loop

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg lays out four stages that feature in habits and are all about gaining a reward.

If a behaviour misses any of these four stages it will not become a habit

The stages are:

1. Cue – the trigger to noticing a reward which is linked to a basic desire such as power, success, safety, food etc.

2. Craving – desire for the reward is powerfully motivating. You don’t crave a cigarette; you crave the calm that smoking brings.

3. Response – the actual habit you perform to get the reward

4. Reward – delivers contentment and is satisfying and closes the feedback loop for a habit.

The brain goes through these steps each time it is looking for rewards.

For example: –

Cue – You wake up in the morning

Craving – you want to be alert

Response – you drink a cup of coffee

Reward – you satisfy your craving to be alert

Very soon your habit is to drink coffee in the morning to satisfy the craving of being alert.

Habits – the Four laws of behaviour Change

In James Clears’ book Atomic habits, he takes the four stages of habits and turns them into a powerful and practical framework for making and breaking habits.

Each law is like a lever which when it is in the right positions makes habit forming effortless.

1. The Cue becomes – Make it obvious. This is about being aware of the cue. Many cues for our habits are invisible to us as we have gone on automatic pilot. What is the cue for eating that donut? What is the cue for wanting that cigarette? Observe what you do and become conscious of what the cues are.

2. The Craving becomes – Make it attractive. This is about making a habit irresistible. Choose something that is really satisfying as a the reward

3. Response becomes – Make it easy. This means making it really simple to act. If you are changing eating habits, fill your kitchen with healthy food. If you want to go to the gym, choose one that is on the way to and from work, or very close to home.

4. Reward becomes – Make it satisfying. Add rewards to your habit that really hit the spot.

These four laws can be applied to whatever habit challenge you are facing. They are fundamental human nature and are the solution to our human need to solve problems in life with as little energy and effort as possible.

How are you addressing your habits to become the person you want to be?

Our habits serve us to get the reward we crave so when we’re thinking of changing our habits it is useful to list them and categorising them into two types.

1. Does this habit help me become the person I want to be?

2. Does this habit hinder me becoming the person I want to be?

The habits that hinder us are the ones to work on.

Do you have habits that hinder you?

What if you were able to change your habits?

Here’s a thought for the day:

This visual was created by Dani Savekar who was able to encapsulate the Atomic habits book in a single visual.

Further recommended learning and reading:

The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg

Atomic Habits, James Clear

1% better every day - James Clear (25 minutes)

Don't delay - change your habits for the better and we are here to help you!


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