The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Habit Change

Good habit alert! It’s that time of year. Have you ever warned someone not to pick up any bad habits? If you’ve ever sat in a PTA meeting, I bet you’ve heard something like one of these comments…

“He picked up that bad habit at school!”

“That was a lousy habit I picked up as a homeroom teacher.”

“The cafeteria food has helped me pick up a few bad eating habits. Uh ho!”

Are “bad” habits something we pick up subconsciously or simply by being in bad circumstances? I often wonder why picking up “bad” habits seems easy, and why “good” habits are something we have to deliberately choose, monitor and safeguard?

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Let’s dive a little deeper into the current science of habits and how they can help us reach our goals and improve our lives.

Some habits are helpful and by adopting them, we can free up brain space and decision-making energy. For instance, think about all the tasks you automatically do before crawling under the bed covers at night. Locking your doors, turning off lights, brushing your teeth…automatic behaviors you don’t have to decide to do.

But other habits–like pushing a dollar bill into the vending machine at 3:00 every afternoon–well, that seem to be just as automatic, yet not helpful to us at all.

There have been many studies about the science behind habits. In late 2016, a team at Duke University discovered a neuron they named the “master controller” of habits. It’s masterful because it sends out messages to other neurons, and that causes a flow of subconscious behaviors.

How does knowing about our brain neurons help in the everyday life of Good Habit development? How can we more easily “pick up” the habits we want to develop?

Habit Cues, Routines, and Rewards

The scientists at Duke and other schools teach us about the patterns formed in our brains. We have evolved to expect a reward when specific patterns or routines are present. Our brain does this because we need to be able to spend less energy doing the day-to-day parts of being human.

Charles Duhigg in his book Power of Habit tells us it’s very hard to change the brain’s expectation of rewards. The reward is always attached to certain cues or triggers in our life, and our neurons have hard-wired pathways to prove it.

There’s a Hack for That!

By recognizing our routines, and then watching for our subconscious cues, we can make a new choice. We can find a new behavior that gives the brain a similar reward. A new routine that mimics those old cues and rewards. That’s how we can make “Picking Up a Good Habit” a reality in the new year.

My Habit Hacks for 2019

I have created a tool to help us all hack our brain’s desire for specific rewards or feelings. As we think about the behaviors or “bad habits” we love, we can use this tool to more easily pick up a new behavior. The key ingredient in this habit hack is REPETITION. We will need to repeat the new behavior so our brain becomes used to receiving our beloved reward in a new way! [The definition of “love” is activities or behaviors that excite us knowing that pleasure is the end result.]

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In this example of my Five Good Habits worksheet I have only shown you two of the habits I’d like to transform in 2019. There are a few others! I can print out my worksheet and think about other Routine | Cue | Reward answers. So can you!

Grab your FREE copy of the Five Good Habits to Pick Up in 2019! I’m happy to send you a blank copy you can print out and use to hack your habits in the year ahead.