Charles Duhigg writes to us, in the third chapter of the power of habit, that we can successfully change a habit simply by keeping the old cue and reward in place. All we need to do is change the routine. Of course, as simple as that sounds, “It isn’t necessarily that easy!”
In order to change a habit the cue that triggers it must be identified. “Yes!” There can be more than one cue. But, in order to achieve the desired habit change, this means a self-evaluation is in order.
Writing exercises can help a lot here. By writing down when a particular habit takes place and what is going on around the time of its occurrence we can figure out the cue/trigger. Then, especially in the case of bad habits, we’ll want to write out all the negative results that occur when the routine we desire to change executes. In doing this we can begin to see what the true reward we are craving really is. For example; an alcoholic may be drinking to relax, for camaraderie, escape, etc. and not for the sake of getting drunk.
Mr. Duhigg does rightfully point out (in the original chapter this one is based upon); in instances of addiction it is an ongoing battle for folks who struggle with it. In such instances, even though a person can change the habits associated with addiction, it does take real effort to maintain positive results. This is especially true in those cases where the addiction has resulted in an individual’s body chemistry being altered, or, because they’ve inherited certain genetic dispositions.
“True!” The habits we want to change aren’t always necessarily destructive ones. Charles shows us in his book how over the past few decades the idea of changing habits has gotten some traction in sports, like football. Coaches of some teams are now teaching players to look for specific cues and automatically execute specific actions based upon those cues. Players are drilled over and over again on exactly what to do if they see an opposing team player standing in a certain manner or moving in a particular way, “Until their responses are completely automatic!” This way they aren’t slowed down by having to think about what to do next, giving them extra speed during crucial moments in a game.
But the golden rule of changing a habit, by keeping its original cue and reward while only modifying the routine, is worthless without the belief that transformation is possible. Charles writes that social environments which support a belief that change is possible, or, that a higher power exists that can help to invoke habit modifications, seems to work best for many folks. That’s not to say that one couldn’t change habits on their own because some folks can, especially after a life altering event like divorce or cancer. “Believe that you can, trust yourself to do it, and it is done!”