Habits: How to Change Them

Written by: David McClaskey

changehabitsIn my previous blog (Habits: A Key to Sustainable Change), I discussed two key concepts related to habits from the book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.

These concepts were:

  • The Habit Loop: Cue (also called Trigger) leads to a Habitual Routine which leads to a Reward
  • The Golden Rule of Habit Change: keep the same Cue and Reward, but change the Routine

Pal’s BEI teaches the keys to sustainability in its “Achieving World-Class Results” class, and one of these keys is making the right things habits. Because habits are important for operational excellence, creating the right ones are a key part of creating sustainable change.

Changing a habit is based on the Golden Rule of Habit Change, which states that the way change is made in a habit is by keeping the same cues and rewards and only changing the routine. To do this involves first determining the three parts of the habit in question (cue, routine, and reward) and then finding a better substitute routine that still provides the reward that satisfies your craving. A craving is a powerful desire for the reward that occurs as soon as you experience the cue.

Below is a process that Duhigg provides to determine the cue, routine, and reward of a habit and then use that information to change to a more beneficial routine:

  1. Identify the Routine: This is the habitual behavior desired to change.
    1. Describe the behavior in as much detail as you can.
    2. Example: Talk to a friend at work each afternoon for around 30 minutes, potentially interrupting both your work and theirs.
  2. Identify the Cue: This is the event that triggers the urge.
    1. Research has shown that most habitual cues fit into one of five categories
      (see below). Each time, when you feel the urge hit, record the following 5
      things:

      1. Location
      2. Time
      3. Emotional state
      4. Other people that are around you
      5. Immediately preceding actions
    2. Study the above collected data to determine what cue triggers the urge.
  3. Identify the Reward: The favorable thing that happens to you as a result of the routine.
    1. Experiment with different routines to determine which craving is driving the routine.
    2. Example:
      1. Step 1: Try different routines when you feel the urge or craving, illuminating different ranges of routines that have different potential rewards. For the example behavior of talking with a friend each afternoon for 30 minutes interrupting your work and theirs, you might try the following routines:
        1. Talk to the same friend but just for five minutes.
        2. Talk to a different person.
        3. Talk on the phone.
        4. Take a break from your work but don’t talk to anyone.
        5. Switch from the task you were working on to a different task.
      2. Step 2: After each routine, wait 15 minutes and see if the urge has either gone away or has returned. If the urge has gone away, you have identified a routine which contains a reward that satisfies the craving. If the urge has not gone away, the routine did not provide an effective reward. Analyze to determine patterns from what is and is not effective at eliminating the urge to do the routine.
    3. Step 3: Using your analysis, determine the reward that you are truly seeking.
  4. Change the Routine: Seek more beneficial outcomes but with the same reward when you experience the cue
    1. For the example, routine of talking with a friend for 30 minutes each afternoon interrupting your and their work, you determined the reward you get from the routine is needing a break from the task you were working on. Based on that, you might change to an alternative routine of taking a five-minute break in your office, followed by changing to a new task. If the urge is satisfied, then you have found a routine that is more beneficial but still gives you the needed reward that satisfies the craving when you experience the cue.

Try using these tools and let me know how it goes. (We would love to share examples and experiences!) Being able to systematically and effectively create the right habits is a key skill required to create sustainable change. Pal’s BEI Achieving World-Class Results class gives a more complete process of how to create sustainable change in your organization.