As I write this, half of 2020 has gone and most of us spent the first half of the year dealing with the curve-ball of figuring out how to deal with the pandemic.
Now that countries are slowly opening back up, we are all trying to determine how to get our lives back to ‘normal’. During this period, some of us got more present to how lives can be reset. Others, like me, have formed bad habits that we need to work on eliminating.
In this lock-down season, I found myself gaining the bad habit of having a sweet after each meal, and more. Imagine 4 orders of 6 donuts in a month shared between two persons! This is probably my 2020 epic highlight of how I self-sabotaged.
Still, all is not lost and I am optimistic for change. Since we know how a habit loop works, it’s now possible for me to hack my way into losing the sugar craving.
And this is how I plan to hack my behaviour
1) Choosing a strong Cue
Remember that the cue is crucial as it forms a reminder to making the habit stick. This should be very specific. In this instance, I noticed that my sugar cue comes with finishing a meal so since I cannot avoid eating, I have left the cue as it is.
If you are looking to start a new habit, set up a cue that will help you trigger the routine you want to develop. It can come after a specific thing that you do on a daily basis such as after brushing your teeth or you can also set up an alarm in doing so. Better still, use an existing strong cue to jump-start your new habit loop.
2) Tweaking the Routine to make it more natural
Choosing a routine and sticking to it can be challenging. However, try different activities so that you can determine which ones make you feel better, and that you are more likely to stick to as a routine.
Here, visuals help. I take advantage of the fact that our brains think in pictures to place at eye-level what I want in my new routine, and ensure that sweets are out of sight. That way I am prompted to act on my new routine, and I am also more likely to forget the old habit.
In my sugar habit, I have decided to replace the ‘after-meal’ desserts with tea and supplements. To make the routine more automatic, I set out the tea and supplements together with dinner so that after finishing my meal, it’s more natural for me to progress onto tea and vitamins rather than retrieve the desserts from the fridge.
3) Replacing the Reward
The reward needs to be clear and substantial. If you can build up anticipation towards the reward, that will be even better. Rewards are what closes up the habit loop, so it is important to get present to them.
Make tangible your reward by seeing it long before you enjoy it so that you utilise the power of visualisation as another habit hack. Then when you enjoy it, savour that and use all 5 senses to enjoy it.
For my previous cookie habit, I realised that my cue was feeling sleepy around 3 pm which would then trigger me to go to the pantry for a cuppa tea and some cookies. While the sugar from the cookies was a welcome reward, I decided that another reward which I would equally value is a timeout from the computer to stretch my legs and freshen up. As such, I set out to form a new habit loop. In this instance, I used an alarm for 3 pm as a cue, switched up the routine and enjoyed the new reward of walking and breathing in fresh air. I repeatedly got present to the new reward, even telling myself what a joy it is. That way, only after a few weeks of careful attention to the new routine, I start doing it unconsciously as a habit which is one far better for me.
It is not easy hacking habit so as with all changes, start small and slow. As Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg, calls it – work with “Minimum Viable Effort”
Make it tiny, even ridiculous. A good tiny behaviour is easy to do – and fast
I am going to continue hacking my sugar habit by chipping away at it little by little. The key is consistency, so in the last 2 months, I have ‘downgraded’ from donuts to chocolates and now to the rare fruits after dinner. Through this process, I have also become more mindful to the different cues that I get for sugar and while I have adapted the new routine for most of these cues, I am still working to address the remaining sugar cues. Throughout this process, not only have I hacked my way into a new habit, I have also hacked the process of creating new habits by becoming more self-aware of what routines and rewards work best. These can help me in my other habit loops as I tackle the other goals I want to achieve.
How about you? Now that we have half a year left, what are some habits that you can hack into to achieve the goals you want?