How to change habits that are not useful (and replace them with those that are!)?

I’m sure that each and every one of us has at least 1 habit that makes us feel that our life would be much better, if we did NOT have or practice that habit!

Habits could be activities that one does, thoughts that one thinks, or words that one speaks.

Let’s just take a look at the wording that most of us use when we refer to this “habit” and why it HAS to be:

  • I am a…
  • I have this habit of…..
  • I am always like this…
  • It runs in my family…
  • I cannot control myself… I have to….
  • I MUST do it… I have no choice
  • I am addicted to….

And so on…

And when speaking about wanting to change, most people use the following words, or a variation thereof.

  • I have no will power..
  • I am fated to be this way…
  • It is too ingrained in me to change now…
  • I have “tried” many times, and cannot keep it up…
  • I get tempted too easily..
    • I am a……(usually a negative term about self)

And so on…..

It is not really important what words are used, or that there are many more variations. What matters is the core meaning that people convey about their ability to break the habit:

I do not have control over myself and I have ceded control to circumstances outside of myself.

The word “Habit” is explained as follows:

  1. A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.
  2. An established disposition of the mind or character.
  3. Customary manner or practice
  4. An addiction, especially to a narcotic drug.

What is truly interesting to note from the above, is that “Habits” are acquired. None is born with a habit. So, it also follows that when one learns a habit (that is not useful), it is possible to unlearn that habit, by replacing it with another habit (That is useful!)

So, the question that’s probably uppermost in your mind is, “Fine –HOW do I do this?”

For a more detailed answer, you could kindly read the book “The Power of Habit”, by Charless Duhigg. What follows is a mixture of what is found in that book, along with information gained from others, and my own personal experiences of working with people.

It is imperative to remember this:

Anything that is said or done is said or done for the benefit of the sayer or the doer!

So, the most important aspect in changing habits is to remember that anything that I say, I say because I get something out of it. Anything that I do, I get something out of it. If I am writing this blog, it is because I will get happiness when people read it, and maybe 1 person is able break a habit that they have been wanting to break for a long time!

There are 3 parts to a “habit” or “behaviour”:

  1. The cue or the prompt
  2. The action (Habit)
  3. The Reward (the benefit that is obtained from performing the habit)

Most people attempt to change the action, without first understanding the other components that are an integral part of the problem, and hence the area to search for a solution!

Step 1: Identify the reward

The main aim of practicing the habit is to get the reward J and without understanding that, aiming to change the habit is futile. So, the 1st step in searching for a solution is to identify the reward that one gets.

Step 2: Identify the Cue or prompt

Once the “reward” has been identified, it is important to identify the cue. The cue will be the answer(s) to one or more of the following questions:

The questions are for the time just before the “habit” is practiced:

  1. What time is it?
  2. Where am I?
  3. Who am I with?
  4. What did I just do?
  5. What am I feeling or what is my state of mind (bored, tense, angry, etc.)?

Step 3: Changing the Habit

Once the “reward” and the “Cue” have been identified, then, one can attempt to change the habit.

The key here is to identify a routine that can replace the habit, and yet deliver the same reward, and when the cues take place. If this is not done, the habit will never change, and one always relapses to the old habit. The relapse happens not because one does not have will power; it happens because the replacement habit does not deliver the reward that the original habit did!

So, is there a magic cure? Sadly no! One has to experiment with various new routines until one is able to identify a routine that delivers the same or similar reward, without the ill effects of the older routine or habit.

The key is to keep track of all data, the cues, the habits and the rewards – this enables one to see things for what they truly are.

And yes, to know more, you could read the book. And if you find it difficult to practice, contact me – maybe I could help! Stranger things have happened! J

Wishing you all, a happy, successful, and fulfilled life!



3 thoughts on “How to change habits that are not useful (and replace them with those that are!)?

  1. Pingback: How to change habits that are not useful (and replace them with those that are!)? « Cheenu's Blog

  2. Thanks GS for sharing this – very neatly captures the key essence of changing behaviors that may have slipped into auto-pilot mode. I found some good insights in a book called ‘Change anything’ (by the Vitalsmarts group). They talk about how people mostly fail at trying to change something when they base their efforts on only one resource – will power. Instead, they talk about a multi-tiered approach to breaking really strong habits across 3 levels of awareness and change – (personal, social & structural) to influence the 2 key elements of effectively changing anything – motivation and ability. The result is a fascinating 3×2 matrix which proposes several techniques and strategies, some intuitive, some not so much. I’ve personally tried some of those and found them quite useful! Your suggestion of the routine ties in nicely with that whole process.

    • Thanks Vinayak! I have read Change Any thing as well. That also deals with changing all things, including habits. One tip that Change Any thing gives can be very helpful: Planning and writing down all the obstacles that might come in the way of achieving the goal (change), identifying all the potential solutions, and if a solution cannot be identified, at least identifying people who can help.

      This single act of identifying problems, potential solutions can make a huge difference to the achievement of the goal.

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