Don’t extinguish your bad habits – change them

Any given day, we base about 40 percent of what we do on habits. Habits send us into routines where we don’t need active thinking. Some such habits save us from always thinking about to do each day. This way we don’ waste mental energy getting ready in the morning, having lunch at work, and more. But they can also, slowly but surely, send us in the wrong direction one small step per day if they are the wrong habits.

Charles Duhigg has researched habit changes thoroughly and presented his findings in the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. His basic idea after seeing what work and not can be summarized in:

“Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”

So, there are three parts to all habits:

  1. A cue that tells you to do something. For example, it can be a time (when you wake up, or in the afternoon), settings (work meetings, grocery shopping), a feeling (loneliness) or social event (when you meet your parents).
  2. A routine you kick in as a result of the cue. For example, as an answer to waking up, your routine is to make coffee, and when you are hungry in the afternoon, you eat a snack.
  3. A reward that sets in as a result of the routine. For example, you feel more awake after the coffee, and the snack makes you less hungry.

The key to changing your outcome of any habit is to focus on the routine. Don’ try to change all parts of the habit right away since you risk being exhausted and the good results might not remain. The cue might be hard to erase since we wake up, can feel hungry, meet others, and face different times of the day. For example, the time cue can tell you it is afternoon. But instead of taking a snack automatically, you can learn to point the cue in another direction, such as eating an apple. The reward can stay the same – you feel less hungry.

It is no surprise that many insightful people describe Charles’ book as revolutionary. Once we map the cues, routines, and rewards for any behavior in our lives, we can also change them into something better. I have started to apply this, and it surely works. Therefore, I ask you to do the same and see what happens. Once you build a healthy habit based on outcomes you want, Charles’ method might do wonders.

Author: Patrik Bergman

Privately: Father, husband, vegetarian, and reader of Dostoyevsky. Professionally: Works as Communications Manager at

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