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4 Steps to Changing a Habit

Step Four: Have a Plan

A habit is a choice we make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing. Often we do it every day. Put another way, a habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see this cue, I will do this routine in order to get that reward.

To reengineer that formula, we need to begin making conscious choices again. And the easiest way to do this, according to study after study, is to have a plan. Within psychology, these plans are known as “implementation intentions.”

I learned that my cue was time — roughly 3:30 in the afternoon. I knew my routine was to go to the cafeteria, buy a cookie and chat with friends. And, through experimentation, I had learned it wasn’t really the cookie I craved; rather, it was a moment of distraction and an opportunity to socialize.

So I wrote a plan: At 3:30, every day, I will walk to a friend’s desk and talk for 10 minutes.

It didn’t work immediately. There were some days I was too busy and ignored the alarm, and then fell off the wagon. Other times it seemed like too much work to find a friend willing to chat, so it was easier to get a cookie in the cafeteria, where someone to gossip with is also easier to come by.

But on those days I abided by my plan, I found I ended the workday feeling better. Eventually, it got to be automatic: When my alarm rang, I found a friend and ended the day feeling a small, but real, sense of accomplishment. After a few weeks, I hardly thought about the routine anymore.

I no longer have my watch — I lost it at some point. But at about 3:30 every day, I absent-mindedly stand up, look around the newsroom for someone to talk to, spend 10 minutes gossiping about the news and then go back to my desk. It occurs almost without me thinking about it. It has become a habit.

Obviously, changing certain habits can be more difficult. Quitting a habit of texting while driving asks less of you than renouncing an addiction to cigarettes or alcohol. Sometimes change takes a long time. Sometimes it requires repeated experiments and failures. And sometimes it is incredibly hard. But this framework is a place to start. Once you understand how a habit operates, you gain power over it. And then you’re on your way.

Related
5 Food Habits That Age You
Help For Making New Habits
10 Habits For Better Sleep

Read more: Addiction, Health, Self-Help, Spirit

By Charles Duhigg, From Experience Life

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Megan, selected from Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

117 comments

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7:57AM PDT on May 11, 2013

Thank you for the good tips

11:20AM PDT on May 3, 2013

thanks. I just need a reason to end a habit, if it isn't harmful i let it be. If it is, I research how its harmful, and I quit

2:36AM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

It really takes a lot of strong wills, and a lot of support from the loved ones around us.

5:57PM PST on Feb 28, 2013

Very good!!

10:11PM PST on Feb 26, 2013

thanks!

1:33AM PST on Feb 24, 2013

Thanks

7:10PM PST on Feb 6, 2013

thanks

10:51PM PST on Jan 28, 2013

Great article,
After reading this I decided to cultivate some good habits one by one and bring back my good habits I lost in the past.

And I've started this with Hab It! - Android motivation tool. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.savefon.habit

10:03AM PST on Jan 27, 2013

Good tips. Thank you.

8:14PM PST on Jan 23, 2013

Good post Megan,thanks

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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