My Self-Sabotage: The Habit Loop
As I read Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit“, an “OH” moment occurred to me. Most of the actions I perform each day were not a product of my decision-making but a habit. Habits developed through choices that I make intentionally at the beginning, and then at some point as the brain looks for ways to save effort, becomes auto-pilot.
Duhigg puts it this way:
….. the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors…, so we can devote mental energy to …”
Our brain helps us succeed by becoming more efficient, so the routine can be done with less ‘power’. The brain juices can then be concentrated on doing what’s necessary for us to perform , deliver and achieve the things we want in life! Sadly, this is what causes us to fail too. Doing the same wrong thing 100x is not going to achieve the right result. Think of the many times you resolved to do something differently and gave up midway because you ‘just can’t’…
Did you know that every basic action you take, such as the routine in the shower or the route you take to get home each day, is actually a habit formed by the brain? Sometimes we say or do something before we realise it – that’s a result of a habit forming in your brain!
The Habit Loop
Duhigg introduces the habit loop which consists of three key elements.
Unfortunately, the brain determines the reward in this loop, and does not consider all other consequences.
Say you are feeling crappy (cue), your brain instinctively tells you to go get some comfort food and buy yourself a gift because you deserve it (routine). The brain sees a reward in you feeling much better after this ritual. However, it may not register you feeling more empty when you realise the food makes you fatter and the gift is redundant. This makes you feel crappier, which prompts you to repeat the cycle again to feel good.
If you give in, this cycle will become more and more automatic, creating a habit loop. When that happens, the brain stops fully participating in decision making and it becomes a sub-conscious pattern. Unless you deliberately fight it, the pattern will unfold automatically.
Why Knowing is Not Enough
Habits are the brain’s way of going on auto-pilot. To achieve success is to harness the power of habits to our benefit. Build good habits that align with your goals in life, and eliminate the bad habits that causes you to deviate. Merely knowing what these habits are is not enough because our brain builds the cue-routine-reward connection faster than we can even realise it!
The good news is, you can take advantage of how your brain works and make a habit of building self-awareness! This helps you identify more quickly when habits are forming, so that you can “consciously” intervene.
Achieving well-being is also being the master of your habits. Take on the attitude of resilience and persist in mastering your habits. Here are some steps on how you can break bad habits and replace them with good ones.