Habit Formation | How To Change & Create New Behaviours (in life)

Habit Formation | How To Change & Create New Behaviours (in life)

Written by dating coach for men Gary Gunn - Founder of Social Attraction

Habit formation and behavioural change are indelibly linked to one another. The process by which new or changed behaviours become automatic is the definition of forming a new habit. The difficulty with habit formation is that our behaviour, normally, has to change dramatically. Good habits are hard to bring to life and old habits, as the saying goes, ‘die hard’.

The reason for this is that patterns of behaviour are fixed and entrenched into our neural pathways, thus constantly repeating the same actions and responses without thinking. Ironically, it is through repetition that we can mould and maintain new and positive behavioural patterns which will eventually disrupt and override other ingrained but negative forces of habit.

It is fair to say that our day-to-day lives are made up of habitual behaviour.

From the time we wake up to the time we turn the light off, our days are really just an amalgamation of repeated actions; most of them conducted with no conscious awareness. It is only when someone or something has prompted us to change our behaviour that old habits manifest themselves into seemingly unbreakable objects and new habits appear to be dauntingly unattainable.

Therefore, it is interesting to consider that habit formation is a cycle of constructive behaviour. Building habits comes down to four simple steps. We need to be encouraged; we need to yearn; we need to act; and finally, we need the prize as reward for our actions. When those four stages – in that order – are implemented, habits form. If we can understand this pattern or framework, then changing behaviour to create new habits can be expedited.

In simplest terms: the prompt; the desire; the action; the benefit.

• Prompt: the initial stage, such as seeing an advert for losing weight. This is a trigger to our brains that we should behave differently with our approach to food in order to benefit from a better figure; in turn, creating an inner desire or yearning for losing weight.

• Desire: Without the motivation to want something bad enough, there is no reason to act.

• Action: By activating our thoughts and taking action – commencing change – the seeds of a new habit begin to grow.

• Benefit: Habits only stick when their end goal is met; this is the benefit or pay-off; the single reason for any habit to exist. The pay-off serves one purpose: to satisfy whatever it is we crave.

The prompt is about being aware of the pay-off. The desire is about craving the pay-off and the action is about receiving the pay-off. If we are satisfied by the pay-off, we repeat the process, again and again, until it is embedded into our neural pathways. We do not desire the habit itself, but the way the pay-off makes us feel. For instance, cigarettes are not addictive per se, but the relief they provide is. Brushing your teeth habitually every morning is not a particular passion, but the feeling of a clean mouth and fresh breath is.

Naturally, we as individuals are unique. Consequently, our prompts, desires, actions and benefits differ considerably between us. Transitioning through the four levels of habit formation from the prompt to the benefit is hugely dependant on the thoughts, ideas, and emotional drive of each individual. To sum up, habits are formed through the behavioural changes during each of the four stages mentioned above.

If behaviour falls short of expectations at any stage of this process, it will not become habitual.

Remove the prompt and the habit will never see the light of day. Diminish the desire and the motivation to act or change is extracted from the equation. Lastly, if the pay-off does not satisfy the desire, reasons for forming the habit in the first place vanish. Habits require these four steps to exist. Without the first three, behavioural change will not happen and without the fourth, the behaviour will never be repeated – the habit can never be formed.

Conversely, tick the four boxes and habits – the good and the bad – are generated.


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