Ever made a promise to yourself to exercise more, drink less, eat healthy?
You even made a great start (Fresh Start Effect, anyone?) with trips to the gym, switching to non-alcoholic beer, or remembering your 5 a day.
But then life caught up and it was hard to keep up so you returned to your old habits.
It’s not just you. It’s hard to change existing habits and develop (and persist with) new ones. Persistence, especially, requires different psychological processes and unless we understand these, it’s much harder to shift old behaviour.
So what are habits?
Mental representation – or a mental shortcut – that helps you repeat what you’ve done in the past, according to Professor Wendy Wood. In other words, where we actively use our System 1 (or automatic brain) to perform an action or response that has been successful, or rewarded, in the past.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of our habits multiply as we repeat them (Atomic Habits, James Clear, 2018).
Habits are learned – they are the associations we make between responses, context and rewards. The more we are rewarded in some way, the more we repeat the behaviour until it becomes a habit.
Habit formation is hard. Habit disruption is harder.
The longer we perform a habit, the stronger they become. And the harder they are to change.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear writes: “If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system for change”.
To change habits, it’s vital we understand the importance of context and rewards. What triggers the old habit? Is the new habit incentivised enough? Because habit formation or disruption is all about replacing one habit with another.
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This article was written by Shayoni Lynn, CEO & Founder at Lynn.