Habit-based coaching can help you change behavior

By MISSY CORRIGAN
Posted 1/17/18

Approximately more than 40 percent of our daily behaviors are done out of habit, meaning we do not have to think about them. Habits are an automatic behavioral pattern that is more than just repetitive behavior. These behaviors are so ingrained that …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Habit-based coaching can help you change behavior

Posted

Approximately more than 40 percent of our daily behaviors are done out of habit, meaning we do not have to think about them. Habits are an automatic behavioral pattern that is more than just repetitive behavior. These behaviors are so ingrained that in order to change them, the brain must be prepared to face a tremendous battle. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, explains that there are three components that make up a habit loop: cue, behavior, reward.

The cue is simply a trigger from within you, internal, or environment, external. An internal cue example is stress which triggers you to eat or drink. An external cue example is the chime you hear in your car that reminds you to put on your seatbelt. The behavior is the actual routine or task, and the reward is the positive feeling or incentive that makes the behavior stick.

The more habitual a behavior is, the more it is ingrained in us almost to the point where it never leaves. This makes it difficult for many of us who embark on resolutions to make better choices and exhibit positive behaviors. Whether it is losing weight, getting more sleep or quitting smoking, the intention of creating a new you is exciting, but a lot must happen in order for the new behavior to stick. And it isn't as simple as a new habit being created in 21 days. In fact, the process is quite long and can take months to years to fully create.

You see, the habit is not just in repeating the behavior; it takes place much deeper in the processing systems of the brain where a tug-of-war takes place between the new brain and the old brain. The new brain is the outer region of the brain that helps us think critically and form new steps and behaviors. The old brain is the inner part that is associated with emotional processing that is responsible for translating a response into a positive or negative and determines whether a behavior should be repeated.

This old brain is also responsible for behavior automation, so tasks that once required energy to complete no longer need brainpower. This part of the brain quickly realizes that a lack of reward for behaviors is minimal, and the old brain quickly overpowers the new brain, making it almost impossible to change.

For example, the brain does not process the same immediate feeling of pleasure from eating an apple as it does eating an apple pie. Therefore, it won't be long before the old brain overrides the new brain because it wants that immediate reward. By eliminating the food altogether, you are not addressing the triggers that remind you how delicious the reward is, and eventually your willpower will be drained.

But experts say this isn't a reason to give up. To change a habit, you must find a way to create the same cue and reward by using a different behavior. Use the habit loop to establish new daily habits that will help you achieve the desired outcome. Establish goals and milestones - break large goals into smaller ones; identify motivational factors - create a habit based off satisfaction, not consequence; pick a goal-oriented behavior - choose one from a list of goals to start with; create the cue and reward - select a reward for the behavior; and eliminate disruptors - have the resources and tools readily available to support the habit.