When you understand your triggers, and the rewards you gain from any habit, you are then in an empowered position to change them. All you need is your trigger leading to the same reward, but from a positive, not negative habit. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net
It’s not often that I read a book that I find resonates with me so strongly at an intellectual and an emotional level – however “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do: and How to Change” by Charles Duhigg has been one of them. I have tried to put what I have read in my own words, but credit Charles Duhigg with the ideas behind them, which I have tried to stay true to.
Dughigg presents a simple model – and because of its elegance, it’s easier to adopt. There are 3 main concepts to introduce first.
1. The cue or the trigger. These terms are best illustrated and defined by examples. A cue or trigger is simply that: a prompt that elicits a certain behaviour. For example, the trigger or cue for smoking may be stress, or boredom, or being around other smokers.
I will use the example of smoking throughout, though the model described and the theory behind it work equally well for any habit one is wishing to change.
At the end I will provide a table for other behaviours.
2. Then there is the the reward. In the case of smoking, there is alleviation of stress, boredom or a feeling of communion with other smokers.
3. Then there is the behaviour designed to elicit the reward – smoking.
Now, the idea is to find a behaviour that produces the identical reward or rewards as is already enjoyed from the habit that a person wishes to change.
In the case of stress relief, there are the examples of mindfulness, massage, changing (probably cutting down) work load by delegating. There are nicotine puffers without the harmful chemicals that mimics the action of putting something in the mouth – nicotine gum works the same way.
In the case of boredom, money that was used to buy cigarettes can be used for another activity a person finds stimulating. Women may find it exciting to shop around for a new outfit, men a new gadget.
You may wish to substitute a nicotine replacement product around other smokers. Every now and then, you may find that you have a group of friends willing to not smoke around you. Or you may find a new group of friends who doesn’t smoke.
Here is another example, with cues, triggers, behaviours and replacement actions.
The reward from comfort eating may be alleviation of boredom, stress or the habit of having something that tastes good in your mouth while you watch television. If you can spend your money on something that alleviates your boredom in other ways - buy a cute new outfit for example. You can get some tasty snacks with dips to satisfy the urge to eat while watching television. If it's comfort you crave, perhaps mindfulness or a massage. These are extra rewarding because these activities are not also associated with the guilt of overeating and putting on weight.