Monday, 14 December 2015

The Science of Habit Change

Part 2/14 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

The Golden Rule of Habit Change

Studies have shown that you can never really extinguish habits (as they say in the 12-Step groups “Once an addict always an addict”). But understanding how habits work—or, understanding the habit loop—makes them easier to control.

To change a habit, we only need to attack the middle step, the routine. It’s easier to adopt a new behavior if there’s something familiar at the beginning and end. And that’s the Golden Rule of Habit Change, which is based on keeping the old cue, delivering the old reward, but inserting a new routine.

If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

The Golden Rule has influenced treatments for alcoholism, obesity, obsessive compulsive disorders, and hundreds of other destructive behaviors, and understanding it can help anyone change their own habits. (Attempts to give up snacking, for instance, will often fail unless there’s a new routine to satisfy old cues and reward urges. A smoker usually can’t quit unless he finds some activity to replace cigarettes when the nicotine craving is triggered.)

It sounds easy in theory, but given the strength of most habit loops, changing behaviors can be very difficult.