Episode #13: The Psychology of Habits
Welcome to episode 13 of LIT! My name is Ravi Toor, and I’m your host. Thanks you so much for joining me on today’s episode. Lucky number 13, and what are we going to be talking about today? Habits. So to begin, I want to start by asking you this pretty powerful question. The question I have for you today is how well do you know your habits and how they’re affecting your life?
Most people think that they are basing their life choices on decisions that they’re consciously making but I’m here to tell you today that’s fucking not true, and a lot of us are actually working on autopilot or through habits. Habits form all the time, OK, and they start from a mental experience. Usually they’re developed quite early in our lives from the moment we start to function, the moment we start to have conscious thought, the moment we start to experience things and have conscious thoughts about those experiences. That is a time for us to develop habits and so we’ve been developing habits for a pretty long time. And new habits develop all the time, depending on your experiences.
Without habits, our brains would be on constant overdrive, OK? Habits are actually a really important thing. Habits help our brain function efficiently without any actual thought or conscious process involved. Habits required no self analysis, no self awareness and they’re usually automatic and are done with 0 or little thought. So as you can see, with all the things our body and our brains do on a daily basis, taking out some thought processes, some conscious thought process help allow our brain to function more productively. So how do habits form?
Habits go through what’s called habit formation or a habit loop. The first thing you’ll experience is it trigger or a cue. This shows up in 5 categories. So, this might be a place, time (time of day), person so someone else, a behavior or a feeling. From that trigger or that cue, you then develop a routine that might show up as a physical routine, a mental routine or an emotional routine. You carry out that routine in order to get the super important reward, the thing you’re actually craving. And so that might show up as you’re feeling relaxed, a little less stressed out, you’re getting money, it’s related to money or food. It’s related to some comfort that you deem as a reward that satisfies the original cue or trigger. The cue or trigger is actually developed from a mental experience and when you go from cue to routine to reward fulfilling each stage, you then create neural pathways signaling that entire habit. You see, our neurology learns to code that very pattern or habit for future cues because what you’ve done is you’ve provided, through the reward the most important component of this entire experience, through the reward you’ve provided that satisfaction. You’ve basically given into that craving. You’ve fed your mind, you’ve fed your body, you’ve fed your spirit with the thing that you truly needed and so your neurology will then associate that reward with the original trigger, knowing to put that into entire process in play for the next time when you have that cue of that place, that time, that person, that behavior or that feeling. And so what you’ve done is you’ve created that automatic or the neural pathways that leads to the automatic reaction, routine or ritual and then reward. So again, you’re creating an automatic neural pathway to break habits and to form better habits and so in order to really change up habits the main place that you need to really focus your awareness on is the cue and the reward.
So, you’ve gotta be asking to some degree how does that apply to me? Well, it’s really fucking simple. What you get out of life is based on your habits. Some of you, as I stated at the beginning of this episode, might think that your life, whether it’s successful or unsuccessful, your goals, they’re all based on decisions. And for sure, to some degree you might decide you want to lose weight, you might decide you want to run for president, you might decide you’ve had enough of corporations taking advantage of the little guy and you want to hold a corporation accountable. You might decide you’ve had enough of your job and you really want to invest in yourself and your dreams and so you’re gonna go for it! So great, these are all decisions but the problem becomes when you run into habits thereafter, right? It’s easy to make a conscious decision but it’s way harder to break a habit because they’re automatic. You’ve already created the neural pathways for the signaling information to transfer itself through all the stages so that you hit that ever so needed craved reward and because of that, it becomes harder and harder to reach the goal. So let me use a personal example to explain this a little bit better, and it’s a pretty practical example for you to wrap your head around.
When I need to search for something, I automatically pick up my phone to search on Google. So when I pick up my phone and open the Google browser I typically open a new Google browser. And when that new Google browser opens, it usually pre-populated with today’s news, and today’s news is quite riveting! I need to know all about it! So when I open that Google browser and the pre-populated news of the day shows up on that browser when I’m trying to look for something, the very first thing I do is I start reading the day’s news. I’ll look at all the articles that are available to me to click on and then the one that looks most worthy, I’ll click on that article and start reading automatically. Remember, all of these actions so far have been automatic but I had made a decision to look something up on Google, remember? So now, maybe 2 minutes goes by, maybe 5 minutes goes by but often, 10 minutes has gone by and I’m still reading the 7th article I’ve clicked on in relation to the very first article I had originally clicked on and I’m nowhere near Googling or searching the thing I originally came to look up in the first place. What has happened here is I opened up Google, and I have a cue, a behavior that when I open up Google and its pre-populated with the day’s events, I click on one of those noteworthy events. And then the routine is that I continue to read and click more and click more and click more and the reward of that is for me, intelligence and information. So now, as you can see, I’ve gone ahead and completely completed the habit loop of when I jump on Google to search something it turns into me reading about Trump, about Samsung, about Stripe, you name it. And so what ends up happening there is you can tell I’ve wasted a whole shit ton of time, and when I realize oh shit, I was supposed to be searching something, I can’t actually remember what I was searching and, therefore, I start to feel really bad about myself and really annoyed with myself. And all of those feelings, behaviors, emotions, all of those produced new habits and so I’m going through a whole ring of new habits. One after another, after another. Kinda like in the previous episodes where I’ve talked about this cycle of events, right?
So, really what does that mean for my productivity? What does that mean for my emotional state when I realize I’m not even searching the thing that I was supposed to be searching in the first place? What does that mean for my goal? Maybe I was searching something for the podcast but now I’m like 15 minutes behind in producing that fucking podcast in the first place because remember, I went to go search something and now I’m fucking deep into an article in Quora that didn’t need to be read in the first place.
For me, what I needed to do that would help alleviate some of the negative outcomes that I’m experiencing from my initial habit loop was to really focus in, bring some self awareness in to the cue. Right? What is the cue? Well, for me the cue was when I open up the browser, I see the news, right? I see all the pre-populated news. So one thing that I could do is write down what it is I was gonna search in the first place before opening up the browser. Or I could go into my settings and remove the pre-population of articles in my Google browser so that it’s empty because remember, when I hit Google on my desktop, on my computer, what ends up happening is not the same because there’s no pre-populated information on my laptop’s Google browser so I’m able to continue searching and finding without being distracted like I would be on my phone.
So, break the cue. Figure out what the cue is. And for me, that was the Google browser on my phone and there were 2 ways for me to change the habit. I could write down the thing I wanted to search or I could just change the settings on my Google browser that automatically changes the routine for me. I’m no longer in Google and automatically starting to read the different articles instead, I’m now training or forcing my body to start doing the search which, I have to tell you was really awkward at first because I am so programmed to go ahead and click on the articles and when there’s no articles it’s really foreign to me, right? The concept is foreign, the visual is foreign, the feeling is foreign. So I had to really work with that difference in my routine and create something new. Work with that.
So now, I’ve changed the cue, I changed the routine and obviously I end up changing the reward, right? For me, now, when I open up Google, it’s something to utilize, something as a search tool, right? And so all put in the search and the reward means that I’ve completed the task, I’m more productive and feeling better. It might be related to money or might be related to a recipe because I can’t tell you how many times of burnt the chicken because I was meaning to go find out something about the recipe and I end up reading something else. You get it?
So, for you this means the more you focus in on your cues, the things that are actually triggering you and then focus in on the reward, what is it you’re actually seeking and sometimes it’s not so simple. You might be reaching for a cookie and it could mean that you need food or, it could mean that your board or, it could mean that it’s a social engagement because you’re around people. You gotta get really creative in finding out what the actual reward is. Once you focus your awareness on the cue and the reward, you’re more apt to change the habit than if you just fucking continued going through the habit loop.
New habits are formed exactly in the same way. If you have a goal to leave your job, you have to create new habits. You can’t just come home everyday after 5pm and do the same shit every single fucking day. You have to create a new habit. So instead of reaching for that remote to binge on Netflix at 5:15pm every day, you need to change that by reaching for a book, maybe writing your goals down. Writing your goals down is a huge one to start changing some of your habits because you’re looking at your goals more often, right? So whatever it is for you you need to focus in on the cues and the rewards to change some of those negative habits that are holding you back. And remember, these habits form but they’re super sneaky, right? They take a long time for you to realize if a habit is negative or positive. So just be cognizant, be aware and try to change one habit at a time. The more habits that you start to break and the more new habits you start to start to form, the better your life will be impacted, the better you’ll experience life.
Remember your brain is like a hard drive. It functions but it also needs an operating system. You are the operating system, you are the data! In order to reclaim your life, your goals, the direction of your life, you need to start by becoming self-aware of the cues and the rewards so that you can change the routine.