April 13th, 2022
How to Hack Habits
The mind has an immense capacity to constantly change and rewire itself. This is how habits get formed: from the brain rewiring itself to treat a specific task as automatic. Upon repeating a specific task after a specific trigger, the brain will develop new pathways whenever that trigger is activated. These new pathways make it easier for the brain to process the trigger easier and easier each time. Think of it like a dirt road. The more you drive on it, the more your tire tracks will create grooves in the dirt. This ultimately makes it much easier to stay on the road, but the negative is that it can make it harder to change where you are driving.
To make it simpler to understand, let me give you an example of a task and trigger. Whenever I sit down to watch a movie with my significant other on the weekend, I often have snacks such as popcorn or chips. It’s movie night, after all! After doing this enough times, the task of sitting down to watch a movie has created a trigger where my brain automatically thinks I need food to go along with it. This results in feelings of hunger in my stomach because my mind has associated watching TV with eating snacks. I’ve developed a habit. And while I’ve learned this habit, it can be unlearned.
For this blog post, I’m going to dive into habits and a few ways to hack them! This will allow you to improve your productivity and remove negative habits. Let me break the habit cycle down into further detail so you can learn about every step of the journey. The habit cycle consists of four separate steps: Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward.
A cue is something that makes your brain want to desire and take action. Psychologically, it is a piece of information that your brain predicts will grant you a reward. For example, when you see food, the brain anticipates that it will taste good and satisfy your hunger. In this scenario, the cue is seeing the food.
Next is the craving that comes after the cue. When we spot the cue, our brain then turns on a craving for us. With food, that craving can be for the taste. For something like sports, our craving could be the desire to win after seeing the potential trophy (cue).
The third portion of the habit cycle is the response we make after acquiring a craving. This is the actual habit that you do. With food, it would be actually reaching for the food and eating it.
The response then finally delivers to us a reward of some kind. For food, it will be the taste. The sweetness of chocolate. The salt of potato chips. Or it could be something like the adrenaline rush of an intense workout. It is what our brain ultimately desires after seeing the cue, craving it, and responding to it. And the reward is the primary reason our brain will create a habit. So that it can get that reward, our brain will push us to develop a cue, craving, and response that supports acquiring the reward.
Now that you understand each component of the habit cycle, we can dive into some great ways to hack the cycle and your brain!
For negative habits, there are four things you can do to help get rid of them. Make the habit invisible, unattractive, and difficult.
For invisible, try to reduce your exposure to the bad cues and remove those cues from your environment. As an example, say you want to give up junk food; a basic solution would be to remove the bags of chips. This means that you won’t have the cue to eat those chips because you can’t see the bag.
For unattractive, you will need to change your mindset and showcase the benefits of giving up your bad habit. When talking about chips, think about how unhealthy they really are for you, and how eating them will keep you away from your health and fitness goals.
You also need to make it difficult by upping the number of steps it takes for you to engage in your bad habit. With chips/junk food, making it harder to eat the food is the primary method. Rid all of the junk food out of your house, and avoid the chip aisle at the store. Then, when you want to have some junk food, it’ll take several extra steps to have some. You’ll have to get into a car, go to the store, walk down the chip aisle, grab your chips, and buy it. The more steps you take, the less likely you will go all the way to engage in the habit.
When you are trying to install good habits, you will essentially just use the opposite rules that you learned for negative habits. Make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. For obvious, simply make the cues visible and easy to see. To make it attractive, pair the habit with something you like to do. For example, if you want to take up running, decide to have a delicious coffee following your run as a reward. This will instill in your brain that running gives a reward you like! To make it easy, just reduce the number of steps it takes to complete the task. With running, have your shoes and workout clothes ready to go, have a preset playlist to listen to, and have a standard path you take.
With all of this information, I hope that you’ve learned a few things about how your brain operates and, more importantly, how to hack it! By employing the above hacks, you’ll be able to break bad habits and make and strengthen good ones! So try it out, and watch how much better your life can become!
Until next time,