By CHARLIE SNYDER
One of the easiest ways to strive towards becoming the person that we want to be, is by simply mastering the practice of developing good habits.
Arguably, the most fundamental element of living a healthy lifestyle is through the creation of beneficial repetitions that shape our everyday lives. These repetitions are commonly known as habits: something that you do daily, without ever really thinking about. Because these habits become somewhat of a subconscious affair, they start to define our daily routines. Once we can master the ability of shaping these habits by fully understanding what it takes to do so, we are all granted the opportunity to transform our everyday lives for the better.
First off, it is worth noting that despite common belief, every person has the ability to build whatever habit they so choose. It may sound like some sort of awkward, motivational screensaver, but the idea that anything is possible through the building of habits is 100% true. This is because of the psychological aspect of habit building known as the “habit loop.” The habit loop is a three part-process that involves A. the cue, B. the routine and C. the reward. First, let’s focus on part A, the cue.
The cue essentially acts as a trigger for a certain habit. Often depending on circumstance and setting, the trigger is what tells your brain to continue with any form of action. Take for example, wanting to get more sleep. The cue for this may be that you feel tired throughout the entire day, or that you notice dark bags under your eyes when you look in the mirror. These cues would then lead into the second part of the habit loop; the routine.
The most obvious part of the habit loop, the routine, is the action itself in which you wish to change. In the example previously mentioned, the routine might be going to bed by a certain time every night in order to get more sleep. Though, the routine does not become a habit until the brain recognizes the third part of the habit loop; the reward.
The reward is what influences the brain into remembering the previous steps of the habit loop. The reward one might notice for getting more sleep would be newfound energy, improved productivity and a better appearance (there is a reason people call it “beauty sleep”). After noticing the reward as a result of the routine, more often than not people continue that routine in hopes of receiving that same reward again. This is where habits are built. Once you gain the courage to put yourself through a routine, it becomes easier and easier to follow through with it because of rewards.
Consequently, according to an NPR interview with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, “Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition.” Duhigg continued, explaining that, “Decisions meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But as soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into a sleep mode of sorts.”
This is incredible for so many reasons. First off, it confirms the idea that habits can become a subconscious action after being in practice for a certain amount of time, making them so much easier to carry out. Undesirable tasks no longer become a chore, instead they become nothing more than an afterthought. Second, lack of motivation becomes an issue of the past. Once you reach a certain point of practicing routine, the need for incentive is essentially gone. Third, this means that brainpower and attention can be moved towards other endeavours, only making us all the more productive. Once we have the ability to focus this separate attention on other things, we can begin to work on habits we wish to break.
Similar to building good habits, breaking bad ones involves understanding the psychological processes behind them. Essentially, bad habits function the same way that good habits do, following the three steps of the habit loop. This is why in order to tackle bad habits, it is vital that one does not aim to attack the routine first. Instead, one should attack the cue, cutting it off at the roots in a sense. This is when we start to become living better and healthier lifestyles than we could have ever imagined for ourselves, having built healthy habits for ourselves while simultaneously cutting off unhealthy ones.
In the end, the positive effects of building and breaking habits have been proven from time to time. Though, the reason that many end up not taking on this challenge, is because routines can be extremely hard to follow and commit to. Not many people can say that they have reached a point of reward that overshadows the adversity that they have faced to get there. That being said, the reward is almost always more than worth it, and should be encouragement enough for all of us to strive towards a healthier lifestyle through the building of good habits.