How to Change a Habit

how to change a habit flowchart

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How to Change a Habit: Cheat Sheet

find The Trigger

This is about acknowledging what is the event that sparks the automatic cascade of reactions for that specific habit. The triggers can be activities, feelings, company, time of day or places. It basically means thinking backward to what were you doing, feeling, … when you first felt the craving that led you to do the habit.

find The Reward

The 2nd step concerns knowing what good comes from we doing the habit. It may not be obvious. For example is it obvious why someone would bite their nails? Not at first glance. Hence why this step may require some testing, which involves replacing what we think is the thing we’re craving, for something else.

change The Action

The point with this is to replace that action, which we don’t like for whatever reason. Maybe it’s an addiction and it is impacting negatively our life. Maybe it’s just something we’d rather not do anymore. Either way, the way this best works is by sticking a new action where the bad one is. Similar actions should work well. If you’re addicted to a game, use a non-addictive game. If it’s alcoholism, use another non-alcoholic beverage, and so on. It doesn’t need to be similar though. As long as it fits – the trigger can lead you into the action, and that action can bring a similar reward as the old one.

Further Explanations

On not setting a precedent

On believing that you can do it

On changing the habit

Why change a habit and not simple remove it? Make it cease? According to various research pointed about by some authors [1,2], that is much harder than simply changing it. I’m sure it depends on the case, but the examples they gave were about very ingrained habits such as nail biting, smoking, alcoholics, and other addictions. This now will be a personal anecdote, so take it for what it’s worth. At some point in my life I was somewhat addicted to playing a game. It wasn’t that much fun, but it was well designed, designed with things to make you want to play more for the sake of getting those things. I knew about this technique, so whenever I felt the urge to play that game, I would play another one instead. One that I knew I would never get addicted to, but that gave me a similar reward. It worked perfectly. I did stop playing that game, and haven’t touched it since (years).

[su_accordion] [su_spoiler class=”refs-accord” icon=”plus-square-1″ title=”References”] [1] Duhigg, Charles. The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business , 2012. Notes available.

[2] Medina, John. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, 2011. Notes available.


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