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The Golden Rule of Habit Change

In The Power of Habit, a book about habit change by Charles Duhigg, Duhigg breaks down the simplest way to change any bad habit.
The Golden Rule of Habit Change

In The Power of Habit, a book about habit change by Charles Duhigg, Duhigg breaks down the simplest way to change any bad habit.

Good habits are foundational to our success in any area. Goals can only take us so far, and oftentimes, our success falls to the level of our habits.

In the book, Duhigg breaks down the process of habit change into three simple steps.

  1. Awareness Training
  2. Reward Identification
  3. Competing Response

Awareness Training

Awareness Training, the first step, is fundamentally about identifying the cue that triggers any bad habit.

For instance, say you want to exercise every day after work, but every time you get home you end up watching TV and eating a hungry man TV dinner.

The question you need to ask yourself is what triggers this decision? What happens in that initial moment that makes you abandon your goal and choose the route of least resistance?

Maybe the cue is a pessimistic thought that exercise is pointless or maybe it’s simply seeing your cozy home that causes you to lose all motivation.

Once you’ve identified this trigger, you can move onto step two.

Reward Identification

Next, use the process of reward identification to identify the reward that your brain is craving.

For instance, what is the reward you’re seeking when you abandon your plans to exercise after a long day?

Maybe the reward is simply a release of dopamine from watching an entertaining tv show or maybe it’s the taste of your favorite snack.

Whatever it is, it’s important to identify it specifically so that you understand why your brain is so willing to forgo your goals in order to reward itself with these unhealthy or unhelpful choices.

Once you’ve identified the cue and reward, you can move onto the final step.

Competing Response

In this final step, the actual habit change comes into play. Use the process of competing response to replace the old, problematic routine with a new, better routine that uses the same cue and reward.

For example, maybe you won’t be able to change your mindset when you get home after a long day of work but there are still ways to beat your brain.

While the old routine involved going home and then forcing yourself to make the difficult choice of going back out to exercise, instead you could keep your exercise clothes in your car and change to routine to involve going directly from work to the gym.

Or, maybe you could put your running shoes by the door and hide the tv remote so that you remember your commitment to exercising immediately when you get home.

Although this might not seem that radical, it still changes the routine enough to decrease any resistance you might have towards your desired goal.

Ultimately, changing the routine while keeping the cues and habits the same is a very powerful way of changing negative habits in your life that seem impossible to break. It’s all about creative problem solving, and with enough time, the new, better routine will replace the old, unhelpful one and bring you the same gratification.