Releasing Old Habits

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I have many habits I would like to shift. The road to becoming more authentic includes looking at the patterned ways we live and shining a light on them so they can release and we can live more freely in each moment.

For a while last spring, I would walk to the local natural foods store every day right after work and get two cookies to eat on the way home. This wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing, but I felt powerless to stop it. I would leave work and my feet would automatically start walking toward cookies.heart cookie

So, in an effort to shift this cookies after work habit, I found out about the habit loop. I know a lot of you are focused on creating new ways of doing things as we move into the new year. I hope you find this information to be helpful.

Here are the basics:

1.  Cue:  This is the trigger that tells the brain to start using a habit and which one to use.

2.  Routine:  This is the activity you perform as a result of the cue. It can be physical, mental or emotional.

3.  Reward:  This is what we get from doing the routine. If the reward is strong enough, our brain remembers. Then, whenever we get a similar cue, we loop back into the same cycle.

Finding this information was super helpful for me. In the past, I thought if I changed the trigger or cue, then I would go down a different path and not fulfill my habit. Instead, what I learned is to focus on the routine part of the cycle first. This has been invaluable.

Here’s how it works:

1.  Decide which routine/habit you want to change. For me, I wanted to go straight home after work instead of diverting and getting cookies.

2.  Figure out what the reward is. Experiment with finding other things that will provide the same reward. This is where your creativity comes in. The reward may not be what you think it is and sometimes it can take a bit of experimenting to figure out. For me, I was going after the cookies not for the taste, but as a way to unwind. So, I decided that if I had enjoyable, relaxing music to listen to or a good book I could look forward to on the bus ride home, I could head straight to the bus instead of to the cookies.

3.  Look at what the cues are for this routine. For me it was simple, the cue was leaving work.

4.  Develop and integrate a plan. For me this cookie habit was pretty straightforward to change. I just made sure I had good music or a good book. I would remember that plan and I would just head straight to the bus. It worked. Riding the bus with music or a good book helped me unwind a bit after work. So, this routine provided an even greater reward than getting cookies because it included the added benefit of not spending money or eating unwanted cookies.

If you would like more information about the habit loop, there is a book written by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. On the linked page is a more in-depth synopsis with more ideas about how to use knowledge of the loop to change habits.

The next habit I am going to shift is to stop checking my email before I am even out of bed in the morning.

Do you have a habit you are trying to release in this new year? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Thinking of you.