In order to create a better life for ourselves, we often have to make changes in habitual behaviour – i.e. those behaviours that have become so automatic we don’t even think about them. But creating, or changing habits is complex stuff.
In his new book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg draws on extensive research to show that a habit is made up of three things.
One – a cue must be present.
Two – a routine is established (this may be a simple action, or a group of actions).
Three – a reward must exist. Not a reward in the traditional external way of thinking, but something as subtle as a feeling.
So an example would be – a sign for a McDonalds outlet is the cue (a strong cue in its clever branding). A routine would be pulling over and popping in for a burger and fries. The reward would be the immediate feeling of satiety (if short-lived).
But a fourth element comes into play.
Duhigg states that there must be a “craving” for the reward. In other words, the pleasure that comes with the reward must be strong and as sensory as possible.
These are the challenges we face. How to make exercise, or healthy food choices fit this pattern so that the old habit can be replaced by a new routine. The cue might be the same and the reward the same, but a new routine needs to be established.
Duhigg’s book is fascinating in that neuroscience once again is used in this incredibly important field of human behaviour. Once we understand what happens in the brain that drives people’s automatic behaviours we can then begin the work of helping them create a new pattern of behaviour. One that also becomes automatic. Habits can be changed. We just need to know how.
Can you identify a habit in your life where Duhigg’s 3 elements of making a habit are now glaringly obvious to you? We would love to hear.