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Harnessing habit power: How to transform your life

As humans, we are creatures of habits and routines – some of us more than others. But we tend to underestimate the power of habits in shaping our lives. 

So, what if you could harness this power and use it to build healthy habits? Let’s dive into the science of habit formation and how anyone, according to research, can create positive change in their life.

How habits are formed

Simply put, habits form when new behaviours become automatic. But have you ever wondered why certain behaviours become habits, and others don’t?

According to research, behind every habit there’s a loop repeating itself. It all starts with a cue. For example, you may receive a notification on your phone that prompts you to check your social media.

The more you react to the cue, the more that action becomes routine, and therefore a behaviour. But for this behaviour to become a habit, you also need a reward: in other words, there needs to be a gain (tangible or intangible) from doing that behaviour.

In the example we used before (checking social media), it has been proven that social media interactions trigger a dopamine release, giving us feelings of satisfaction and motivation.  That’s how a behaviour becomes a habit, and in extreme cases, an addiction.  

Can you use this mechanism to change a habit?

Experts suggest that, once you understand how habits are formed, you can ‘hijack’ the habit loop to change a habit, or maybe replace it with a healthier one. 

As this interesting article explains, the first key step is to identify the routine. Is there something you do often that you’d like to change? Think about what you would do instead: this will be your new habit.

Once you’ve figured out the new habit, the next step is to attach rewards to it. You might need to try several different rewards before you find ‘the one’.

Lastly, focus on the cue. Note what triggers you to repeat the ‘bad habit’. Are there any patterns, in terms of location, time, emotional state, last action, or people around you? Perhaps doing things slightly differently can weaken the cue-routine-reward loop and make room for another habit to take its place.

Take it one step at a time

A 2019 study found that it takes 66 days, on average, to start a new habit, but as much as 254 days until it’s fully formed. So, if you’re looking at building a different habit – patience is key.

Recognise and celebrate each step you take towards your new habit. If rewarded, small wins can help reinforce your new behaviour and make the process enjoyable. This could be as simple as acknowledging your effort or treating yourself to something you enjoy after a week of consistent behaviour. 

And most importantly, don’t forget the importance of a support team. Share your goals with your friends and family, they will be happy to cheer for you.

Disclaimer: Please note that the content provided in this article is intended as an overview and as general information only. While care is taken to ensure accuracy and reliability, the information provided is subject to continuous change and may not reflect current developments or address your situation. Before making any decisions based on the information provided in this article, please use your discretion and seek independent guidance.