Exploring the Power of Habit

By Gretchen Larsen (Hochstatt, France), MCS Alumna

I recently had the chance to read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I’d like to share some of the insights from the book that I found useful working on my own habits, but also working with clients on habit change.

Habits are automatic loops that have 3 parts: the first is the cue, which is the trigger that lets our brain know what to do; the second part is the routine, which is the behavior we perform to get the third part: the reward, which is the satisfaction of a particular craving.

Many clients know what routine they’d like to change, but are less aware of the deeper craving they are really trying to satisfy with the reward and/or the cue that sets the automatic habit loop in motion. With heightened awareness and curiosity, clients can experiment with rewards and start to notice the cues. Once they understand all the parts of their habit loop, they are ready to make a change.

One way they can do this is by swapping out the routine. It sounds simple, but by keeping the original cue and the true reward in place, with a little practice people easily adapt to a new routine. What’s most important at this point is to both make and write down a plan: When I see <original cue>, I will do <new routine> in order to get <original reward>. It’s also helpful to remember that overcoming urges can be difficult at first, so having clients anticipate challenges to the new routine and write down what they plan to do to overcome these challenges can greatly increase their success.

There’s one more ingredient to long lasting habit change, and that’s belief. While its helpful to plan ahead and write down what you will do when you face a challenge to your new habit, it is in the face of intense challenges that many people revert, momentarily, to the old habit. When this occurs, researchers have shown that the people who are able to stay with the new habit are the ones that ultimately believe that the new habit will bring the reward they seek.

Some people are supported by belief in a higher power, some in their sponsors or the other people working with them to change the habit, and some from the experience of falling off the wagon and repeatedly getting back on it. But what people who keep the new habit seem to have in common is that they now believe that the new wagon is the thing that will carry them where they want to go.

If you’re interested in learning more about how habits work and ways to change them, then I invite you to pick up this book and see for yourself – maybe it will even satisfy a craving you have.

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