You can begin to make changes to your habits when you understand their anatomy and how you create new habits. Your old habits are automated in your brain, so changing them is harder than creating new ones. You have to understand how habits are formed in order to change them. Your habits never leave your brain, so changing them is your only chance. Changing habits requires four steps:
Identify the routine
Try different rewards
Isolate the clue
Make a plan for execution
Identifying the routine is the easiest part because it is a habit that needs changing, such as biting nails, eating sweets or shopping. Trying out rewards takes more work. The real reward may not be immediately noticed. The reward can only last for milliseconds, like a momentary change in hormone balance. Finding the right reward is the most important thing, because without it, the habit is not born. Sensations produced by the different rewards must be observed. You can either use the person following your routine or alternatively write down first feelings after receiving each award. This process can take longer, so don't be discouraged if you don't see the prize right away. The longer you wait after trying the reward, the more likely you are to make a mistake. Make a plan where you mark the prizes you tested and how you make your observations.
Once you find the right reward, you can start isolating the clue. They have similarities. They can be linked to a place, a company, a mental/physical state, the time of the clock or a previous activity. The clue is likely a combination of factors. The best way to isolate a clue is to write down all the events and conditions day after day. Let's use the example of buying sugary treats after a working day.
Physical clue (store or kiosk logo)
Location (proximity to your grocery store or kiosk on your commute)
Company (alone or with significant other / children)
Condition (hunger, fatigue after work)
Time (17.05 weekdays)
What to do beforehand (Travelling in a full and noisy means of transportation) Repeat marking the clues until you notice similarities. Note that these five things are not always the same. Clues can also be about single factors. After completing the first three parts, you can begin to change the habit. Understand that not all habits change easily. Reprogramming your brain is difficult. It can take a long time. You need to make a plan for change that you will implement for a long time. Since you implement your habit as follows: you notice the cue, you perform the routine to get the desired reward, for example, when buying treats, your plan must be:
When I am tired after a day of working and jump a bus full of people and can see a store logo (clue)
I Walk in and buy a product x instead of a product y (altered routine) to get a reward z
In this case, a product x is something delicious and unhealthy, while the substitute y is, for example, a banana. The received reward is the feeling from the right level of blood sugar. Repeat the aforementioned plan until you have automated it. It will take some time. The more often you have repeated the habit you want to change, the more repetitions it will need to achieve the change.
Improving chances of success
Change your habits one at a time. That way you have the best chance of success. Be patient because changes take time. The first days after the decision are easier because you are at your most determined. According to American professors who study habits, the worst moments come about three weeks after starting. When you start, modify your environment in such a way that it favors change and keeps temptations away. You can't just put treats in the cupboard at home and rely on willpower or buy them at the store and trust that you won't start eating them. Throw the temptations in the trash or donate to better homes. Don't give yourself easy opportunities to fail. Changing your environment is the single most important thing. Without it, the chances of success decrease. Later, the role of your environment will decrease.
The longer you try to change a habit, the more likely you are to fail at first attempt. Be prepared for momentary failures by thinking in advance how you will react to them. The first one doesn't mean you've killed your chance for change. Failures make you human. According to US researchers, it takes an average of seven attempts to quit smoking. Be kind to yourself when you fail and decide in advance that you will try again immediately after the trip. Make a plan for the trip as well.
Each habit is different and their formation has not yet been studied much. A study conducted at the University of London in 2009 has reached some conclusions. The study measured habit formation to the point where 95% automation was achieved. In other words, at that point the habit required no effort. The study measured changes in students' exercise habits and diets. In the study, the average result was 66 days, with the results varying between 18 and 254 days.