Do you choose your habits or do they choose you?

Habits are the brain’s way of saving energy for more important things. When the brain detects a pattern, or routine, it tries to turn it into a habit so as to free up some thinking space. When we’re engaged in a habit, the brain goes into automatic-mode, allowing us to be save our best thinking for more creative endeavors. In fact, most of what we do on a regular day involves moving in and out of habitual patterns, whether positive or negative. The good news is that we can turn any bad habit into a good one by tweaking the middle component of the 3-step process. Firstly, there has to be a trigger (cue) that tells your brain its time to start the habit. For example, when one has the habit of jogging in the morning, the “cue” might be getting out of bed and spotting one’s running shoes across the room. Next, the routine, in this case the actual run. And finally there has to be a reward, so that the habit makes sense. At the end of the run this person allows herself to have a hot cup of coffee, hence the reward. This same concept also applies to negative habits such as snacking on junk food while watching TV. In order to change a habit, it is necessary to change the routine, while often keeping the cue and reward the same. When sitting down to watch TV, notice the urge to snack and substitute a healthier snack (such as a glass of sugar-free ice tea, or crunchy fruit snacks). Watching TV continues as the reward, and over time a new habit is born. Over time, the loop—cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. Similarly, a new habit can be created to establish a desired behavior. Simply keep in mind the three components and set up your brain to streamline its efficiency!

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