On Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed reporter Charles Duhigg, who has written a book titled The Power of Habit. In the interview Duhigg describes the three-part structure of a habit…
- Trigger – Something in the environment that triggers or cue’s the habit’s routine or behavior; could be a certain time of day, a location, a sound or smell, etc.
- Routine – The actual behavior of the habit; smoking, eating a cookie (every day), the way you brush your teeth, the brand of toothpaste you buy.
- Reward – What to you get from the habit? This can be hard to determine.
What’s interesting is how these elements can be used and manipulated to make or break habits.
For example, the best time to break an old habit (and make a new one) is on vacation. That because when you’re on vacation you’re not around many of the usual triggers that cue your regular habits. Without the normal cues, you’re freer to disrupt the structure of an old habit and insert the new triggers, routines, and rewards you really want.
But there are a couple things to keep in mind. Changing a habit takes some investigation and thought, because while the behavior may be easy to identify, it’s often more difficult to identify a habit’s triggers and rewards.
When trying to establish a new habit that possesses an emotional reward, like enjoying time with your kids, you will NOT affect your brain’s “reward” chemistry (and therefore not form the habit) UNTIL you stop and recognize the pleasure you’re getting from it.
“For a (mental or emotional) reward to actually be rewarding, you have to recognize the pleasure that you get from it.”
For physical rewards (like chocolate) your body recognizes the reward even if you are not consciously aware of it. But emotional or mental rewards are different. For emotional or mental rewards you have to stop and recognize the pleasure, recognize the enjoyment you feel playing with your kids, and then you have a reward. Without that recognition, you won’t develop the habit you want because you’re missing that last, crucial reward element needed for a new habit to form.
“Teach your brain the right habits by teaching it to crave the right rewards. By changing your behavior to deliver the rewards that you know that you need. but you have to be mindful of that process, you have to learn the structure of it.”
So the goal is to establish your own cues and rewards to consciously create habits for purposes you choose.