Before you can change a habit, you need to know how a habit works. There is something called the habit loop. As seen below, this consists of a cue/trigger followed by a routine which then gives us our reward.
The goal in changing any habit is to find a routine that gives you a similar reward. But, you must first start at the beginning and identify the cue or trigger which brings upon the routine.
The first example with the toothpaste happens naturally as you feel your teeth are dirty, you brush them and they are clean. This is not a habit you really want to change, but is an example to show you how the loop works.
The second example, with the doritos, is one we might want to change. I will use a personal example from my life to show you how I identified my cue and changed my routine.
I’ve always been a bit of a sweet tooth. Candy Bars and Ice Cream were my weaknesses. I got to a point a few years back where I really wanted to do something about my addiction. So, I followed the habit loop process to see if I could change this habit that had controlled me for years.
The first thing that needs to be done is identify the cue or trigger. For me I identified it was post dinner. Every night after dinner I found myself craving sugar. I would never buy sweets at the store as I am a pretty healthy guy who takes care of himself. I know that I have zero willpower after dinner, and if there were any sweets around…they were doomed!
I have a Circle K corner store about 500 yards from my front door, so if the craving got too heavy, I could literally walk over, buy a Ben and Jerry’s, some candy bars, and be back on my couch feeding my addiction before the commercial was over.
My two choices were to move farther away from a corner store in order to make it harder for me to get my fix, or find a replacement for my routine of mainlining sugar after dinner…I chose the latter.
Once you’ve identified the cue or trigger, you must now find a replacement for your normal routine. Here’s the catch…the routine must give you a similar reward to your current routine. In looking for replacements, substitutes, distractions for my sweet addiction I tried brushing my teeth, eating mints, chewing gum. They all worked…for about 20 minutes and then the craving built up to the point where I would find myself walking over to my corner store already tasting the Ben and Jerry’s flavor I had picked out in my head.
One reason these routines didn’t work was because I wasn’t getting the same reward. Sugar is one of the most addicting substances on earth and our brain lights up like a Christmas tree when we have it, very similar to when we do cocaine…what?!?
Moving on…I was spending the weekend over at a girlfriends house and after we had dinner, guess who came knockin’? Yep, my craving…so I went to the fridge and cupboards and searched for something sweet…nothing! I was not going to hop in my car and drive to the store because that just may have ended the relationship if she knew I was an addict. I ended up finidng these sweet black grapes in the fridge and thought, ok, I’ll have a bowl of these. After rinsing them off, sitting down to watch tv, I popped one in my mouth wishing it was a Peanut M&M. I thought…hmmm…not bad. I had another and another until my bowl was empty. I sat there and I was so satisfied I couldn’t believe it. I had zero craving for candy or anything else..I was satisfied!
The next night came and I did the grape thing again, and it worked. For the next six months, I never not had sweet black grapes in my fridge. Guess what…I made zero trips to my corner store and consumed zero refined “crack” sugar products during those six months…I had done it!
The reason the grapes worked was because it gave me a similar reward.They have their own sugar…natural sugar, which I will take all day long as long as it keep me from the refined “crack” sugar.
I had identified my craving…after dinner. Found a replacement routine that gave me a similar reward, sweet black grapes, that tasted good, fed my brain the sugar it needed and satisfied my cravings! I had completed the changing of the habit…one of the toughest things to do, in my opinion.
Now it’s your turn to find something you want to change, identify the cue/trigger, change up the routine (may take a few attempts to find the right one) and enjoy the accomplishment of changing a habit!
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