A habit is formed through enough repetition over the time and makes the brain recognize it. However, habit also sort of a form of trial and error process which is try, fail, learn and try differently until the useful action is formed.
The science behind each habit formation has four stages which are cue, craving , response and reward. These four stages form a feedback loop that is an endless cycle.
Our brain continues to scan the environment, predict what will happen, try to respond differently and learn from the results.
- Cue: you wake up
- Craving: you want to feel alert
- Response: you drink a cup of coffee
- Reward: you satisfy the craving to feel alert. Drinking coffee becomes associated with waking up.
The four stages of feedback loop can categorized as Four Laws of Behavior Changes which can help to enhance the good habit and break the bad habits. The four laws can act as a lever that influences our human behavior and by understanding them and works smartly along it. Our good habit can be formed.
Here is the Four Laws of Behaviour Change for good habit:
To break the bad habit, we need to invert the laws by:
The 1st law (cue)
Our brain is smart enough to pick up the “cue” without consciously thinking about it. This relates to our habits, we stop paying attention when it is in automatic mode.
Start with awareness what we are actually doing , our behaviour by creating our own list of daily habit in habit scorecard such as:
Wake up, turn off the alarm, check my phone….
Next, identify the nature of habit, either is good, bad or neutral by using the following symbol:
- For good habit +
- For bad habit –
- For neutral habit =
Habit scorecard-to help increase awareness in our daily habit
The first law of behaviour change is to make the cue becomes obvious. We can create an implementation intention by applying a good habit with the most common cues which is specific time and location.
We can use this formula:
I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Example: I will meditate for 1 min in the kitchen.
We also can connect the new habits which each other by habit stacking:
After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
Example: After i pour my morning cup of coffee, i will meditate for 1 minute.
This helps to form good chains of habits, once we master the basic habit stacking. We can continue to the next level.
Our environment plays an important role to make the cues for our habit. We mentally assign habits to the locations in which they occur, for example home, gym etc. we can learn how to link a particular habit with a particular context, example a chair for reading purpose only. Our habits can be easily changed in a new environment as there are lesser old cues and triggers. So, rethink our current environment, modify it to help to cue our good habits.
Now we can get back to eliminating bad habits by making it invisible. By reducing the exposure to it is much helpful than self-control.
The 2nd law (Craving)
Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop, dopamine makes us happy and satisfying. By tie our behaviour with one of our favourite things at the same time, this helps make the behaviour becomes attractive. This is called temptation bundling and can be formed by
The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula
- After [current habit], i will [habit i need]
- After [habit i need], i will [habit i want]
By using a dopamine driven feedback loop, it becomes the anticipation of a reward. The bigger the temptation/ rewards, the more we likely want to do it and help to form habits.
We imitate the habits from our close one, the many (crowds) and the powerful (authority). Human minds want to get along with others, be accepted and be respected by others. This is our natural mode and we can use this in our good habit formation. We can join the group that have desired behaviour we want and the group treats it as normal behaviour.
Reframing our mindset to think differently on the habit and make it more attractive. For example exercise , instead of telling yourself to go turn in the morning, we can say it’s time to build endurance. We can associate our habits with something that we feel happy and motivated about, for example play happy songs before we start exercise. This is called motivation ritual.
We also can apply the similar strategy on bad habits by highlighting the benefits of getting rid of bad habits.
The 3rd law (Make It Easy)
Start doing it (action) now and instead of keeping planning (motion) is a good way to kickstart the habit. Action helps to produce outcome and the more we repeat the action, this repetition will reach automation thresholds. When beyond this threshold which is so called habit lines, the habit can be done with less thinking and is easy to be done. The most important thing is the number of times we have performed it. So reducing the friction for good habits.
Humans tend to go the easy, least effort route as it requires the least amount of work and energy to do it. By removing the friction and reorganizing the space for the intended purpose, we help to prime the environment suitable for next action.
We can master the decisive moment and optimize the small choices that we make to achieve the biggest impact.
When we start the habits , it needs to be conducted for at least two minutes. The following action can be challenging but the first two should be easy. For example:
Reading before bed each night becomes a 2 minute action : read one page.
The secret is to always stay at the low points that we feel like it is work and act as entry points. When we standardize and master the beginning process, it builds a solid foundation for us to focus on the next great things. Downscale the habit in a two minute easy version if needed.
Automate our habits by investing technology or one time purchases that can make us keep continuing the good habit. Example turn off notifications and mute group chats for focusing your life more. Same
For bad habits, make it difficult to achieve, for example putting your snack at a higher cabinet that you find hard to reach. Increase the resistance and friction to prevent the bad habit.
For bad habits, make us a commitment device that can restrict us, example ask someone to change our social media password once a week so we can focus on our project.
The 4th law (Make It Satisfying)
We expect immediate good returns and results when we carry out the habit. Once we feel successful , the satisfaction keeps us going. We can reinforce the immediate reward after completing the good habits.
Make “doing nothing” enjoyable. When avoiding a bad habit, make ourselves see the benefits of it. Example to break the bad habit is to make it unpleasant, painful and sad.
To make the results visible, make us feel like we are making progress. Record it with habit trackers or any visual forms can help us make it clear on our evidence of progress.
However, do remember that something you can measure doesn’t is the most important thing.
It is alright to miss the habits once awhile due to any reason. However, we shouldn’t miss it as it will make us have the habit to break our habit chain. We need to get back on track as soon as possible.
Get an accountability partner as a motivator to help us watch our behaviour. We not just make promises to ourselves also to others. This can help to reinforce our determination to keep good habits.
Create a habit contract and make the social costs of bad habits public and painful.
Hope this article able to help you have some insights on create a good habit and/or bad habit by atomic habit.