Changing habits – why is it so difficult and how to finally do it

We behave the same way every day. Why do we act like this and why is it so difficult to find the strength for changing habits change something? Self-discipline is born in the head, and we must find it there. This is not a question of strict limitations and self-denial, but an understanding of how certain mechanisms that define our life – habits – work.

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” William James

There is a well-known case in the medical literature, which is very indicative in our question. In 1993, the patient became disabled due to his illness. More precisely, he could not remember new information, especially everything that was up to his thirty years. Scientists asked him to draw a basic map of his apartment, which he could not do. However, surprisingly, he moved perfectly between the kitchen, his room, dining room and even the whole block around the house. He found the right path unmistakably. When the scientists asked how he did it, he replied “I don’t know”. In two words, this study has proved that we perform many actions automatically, that is, they are our habits.

How habits work

Every year in January, herds of people knock on the doors of sports centers, wanting to change their bodies. In such places, the highest sales growth at the beginning of the year, and then systematically these results fall. A new time – day, week or year – for many of us is the beginning of something new. Clean slate, “new me”. Is that really the case?

Most of our standard behaviors are based on a familiar loop, which consists of trigger, action (habit), and reward. Considered example. You get up in the morning – perhaps you immediately reach for the phone, and then brush your teeth. When you cook eggs, you always shake the pan twice; look in the mirror before you get out of the car and so on. Of course, these are the trivial questions, but habits also concern much more important issues in our lives. Alcohol, coffee, whining, sticking to the screen. There are a lot of such habits, and everyone has them. You just need to be able to correctly identify their behavior and these phenomena.

changing habits

Each of the habits can have a positive or negative impact on us, it all depends on how we interpret it and the consequences. Many habits are very useful for us, such as morning exercises, searching for a pedestrian crossing, saving backups, etc.

Let’s get to the details. As it has been said, we have three stages of the habit mechanism – trigger, action and reward. At the heart of this scheme is the desire for ease or satisfaction in any form, such as minimizing stress, a sense of strength, pure hedonism. It all depends on what kind of need satisfies particular habit. A habit is triggered by a specific person, situation, or condition that cause the impulse – the start of the habit mechanism.


To start changing habits you need to pinpoint what is actually a key or pulse generator. If you do it wrong, changing habits will be impossible. For example, the trigger of smoking may not be stress or addiction, but simply the need to put your hands somewhere. The reason for drinking coffee can be a beautiful design of the jar or the fact that you see it in the morning. It is necessary to know exactly what causes the mechanism of habits.

What is an habit? It is an action that is repeated, that is, what we do schematically for thousandth times, without even thinking about it. In fact, we are only waiting for the last stage, which is the award. Our brain knows that after every usual action there will be the specific reward that he wants. All he has to do is react properly to the trigger and start the mechanism. In fact, we’re pretty hedonistically programmed. However, the most important thing is what happens after receiving the reward. Your brain creates or reinforces the “trigger-action-reward” pattern and develops the habit, even if you are completely unaware of it.

Be free – start changing habits

changing habits - be free

Our goal is to change only one element in the mechanism – action. We leave the trigger and the reward because it helps us in a certain way. This scheme of changing habits is simple. Change the action, get the same reward reacting to the same trigger.

At first, changing habits will be accompanied by resistance, and this is the biggest problem. But our brain will soon get used to it. Here are a few examples that will help you understand why our brain creates a particular habit:

  • Tea and cookies (trigger – kettle on the stove, reward – rest from work)
  • Alcohol (the trigger is – stress, the responsibility, the reward – the moment of forgetfulness, rest)
  • Surfing the Internet (trigger fatigue, the reward is the satisfaction of curiosity, relaxation)

You understand the idea? In each of these cases, we can only change the way we act. If you want to stop drinking coffee – throw it away and put green tea in the same place. You want to stop scrolling Facebook feed instead of doing work – use the breaks to move, for example, walk for 10 or talk with a colleague. If you want to run in the morning – put the alarm away to have to get up and turn it off, buy nice sneakers and put them in a prominent place. Your goal is to change the diet – remove harmful products from the refrigerator and shelves, learn to relax and have fun without eating.

changing habits

Gradual changing habits

Focus on changing one of your habits, and only after getting rid of it hold on to another one. Never do everything at once. Changing habits requires determination, the right attitude and perseverance, action until it happens. And do not scold yourself if something does not work immediately. If you fell and behaved according to the habitual scheme, continue theattempts, it is better anyway, than to give up changing habits.

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