In our last series on the Gut-to-Skin Connection we discussed the Basics of Gut Health, the Gut-to-Skin Connection as well as ways to Support Your Gut Health. We learned that taking care of our gut health, and therefore, our skin health is not only dependent on what we consume; taking care of ourselves also matters a lot. In this series we’re digging into ways for you to become your “Best Self” – to reduce stress, reach your goals and stay balanced in all that you do. If you haven’t already, check out our article “Best-Self Series Preamble” for an introduction to this series and on what “Best Self” means to us here at AURA. In the first article of this series, we’re going to delve into habits - what habits are and, more importantly, how to change bad habits.
Our habits shape so much of what we do, from which sock we put on first in the morning, to what we mix in our morning coffee, to how we spend our money – habits even extend as far as the way we treat another person in a given situation. The majority of us undoubtedly have a few bad habits that are holding us back from reaching our goals. Maybe you aspire to be more fit, or to read more, perhaps it’s to be more patient, spend more time with family or maybe it’s even deeper than that, maybe it’s to change how you interact with others – to become less abrasive, to be more reliable. Whatever it is, understand that your mind is more powerful than you realize and that with enough mental stamina you can change your default habits.
There are many articles online about habits – “Top 10 Ways to Change Habits”, “5 Ways to Break Bad Habits” and the like. I’m a voracious reader with a particular interest in neuroscience and psychology (among others) so I prefer recommendations that are grounded in the way our brain actually works. Of everything I’ve read on habits, the model I like the best is the one put forth by Chares Duhigg in his book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”. For changing habits, he proposes what he calls the “Habit Loop” and I personally believe it is an excellent framework for changing our habits.
The “Habit Loop”
The concept with this model is to identify the cue, routine and reward associated with a habit and from there replace the routine while keeping the cue and the reward. To do this, you need to first understand each element of this loop. So, let’s walk through an example of how this works (full disclosure - the example I’m about to provide is clearly not an awfully terribly hard habit to break, but it was frustrating me and the habit loop concept remains the same regardless of the severity of the bad habit).
If you know me, you know that I love chocolate. The darker the better. And I’d say that overall I moderate my consumption quite well – I usually have a few dark squares in the morning with a cup of tea. I was finding, however, that I was getting in the habit of also nibbling on extra chocolate in the evenings with my tea once the kids went to bed and sometimes even other equally delicious things like chocolate chip cookies (if I happened to have baked some). I wasn’t feeling great about this habit, so I decided to try out the Habit Loop framework in an effort to break the habit.
As Duhigg points out, the habit or routine itself is always the easiest to identify. For me, the routine would go like this: I’d put the kids to bed, put the kettle on and while waiting for the kettle to boil I would nibble on some chocolate and then once the kettle was boiled I would take my hot tea and some more chocolate to the couch with me where I would proceed to read/work/knit/talk to my husband.
Determining the cue for such a routine is a little trickier. Was I craving chocolate because I was hungry, lonely or bored? To pin point the cue, Duhigg recommends testing different hypotheses. He suggests substituting a new activity in place of the old routine for a few days and to write down on a piece of paper the thoughts or emotions that come to mind immediately following the new activity. Wait 15 minutes and then ask yourself if you still feel the urge for what you initially wanted.
So I gave this a try. On the first night I tried doing a little tidying up while I waited for the kettle to boil. The next evening I called my mom. The following evening I ate some dried fruit. What I found was that when I ate the dried fruit I still craved chocolate, which told me it wasn’t sugar I was craving. But when I called my mom I didn’t have the craving for chocolate and likewise when I did some tidying up. This indicated to me that my craving was initiated more by boredom while waiting for the kettle to boil – in retrospect it makes sense. After a busy day and finally getting the kids to bed, the house would feel quiet and less “full”, so seemingly I was looking to replace this feeling.
Lauren’s Chocolate Habit Loop
Having figured out the elements of my habit loop, the next step was to take action. The key with the habit loop model is to keep the reward and cue the same but to substitute the routine. So this is exactly what I did.
Admittedly, it took a little bit of getting use to at first, but once I determined my cue was more about boredom than sugar cravings I started to do other activities as soon as I put the kettle on – tidy up a little, call my mom or fold some laundry. I was still getting the reward I was craving of feeling “full” but now it was coming from accomplishing a small task or having a nice conversation with a loved one. It’s been just over 5 weeks now and I feel like my new routine is sticking.
Top Tips for Changing Your Habits
- Work on one goal at time
- Focus on changing the behavior by using the “Habit Loop” Framework:
- Identify the routine
- Test our different rewards
- Isolate the cue
- Have a plan and take action
- Be patient
- Believe that you can make the change
At the end of the day, we’re all on a journey to be a better version of ourselves, to have that enviable aura about us. Harnessing our mental superpowers to overcome bad habits is just one way to help get us to where we want to be. Next up in our best self-series we’re going to look at the power or saying no – why it’s so hard, why it matters and what you can do about it.
In the meantime, let us know what habits you’re working on overcoming in the comments. Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Let us know your thoughts!
Charles, Duhigg. (2012) The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York City, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks