Why is Changing Your Habits So Hard to Do?
If you’re reading this article, there’s a real good chance that there are some habits you’ve developed over time that don’t serve you well, and you want to make a change. We’ve all been there at one time or another.
Have you heard this quote? Maybe you have seen it on an inspirational post on Facebook or Instagram?
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
- Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy
What about this one?
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
- Henry Ford
Both of these quotes speak about habits. Who you are as a person, and the direction your life is headed, is a result of your thoughts and actions. In other words, your habits. Habits form the types of people you hang out with and the things you believe.
When you want to make improvements, then, in your health, finances, relationships, parenting, professional life, etc., you’re going to need to change some habits.
Seems simple, right? And it is! Simple doesn’t mean easy though! In fact it is downright tough to change habits!
Why is changing your habits so hard to do?
Ask anyone and they will tell you changing behavior is one of the hardest things you will ever do! Why, though, is it so hard to make a change and stick to it for the long-term?
Turns out there’s plenty of reasons!
James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, describes what he calls the Habit Loop. The Habit Loop describes four stages of a habit and why they stick.
If you can better understand the inner workings of a habit, you can then take a look at your own habits, understand how they work, and how to change them!
Stage One - The Cue
A cue is a thing or event that triggers you. Think of it as a clue. A tiny bit of information that get’s your brain going and initiates a behavior. A cue lets you know that a reward lies ahead.
For example, your phone buzzes or dings that sweet sound of a new message. This is a cue. In other words, a cue is noticing the reward ahead.
A cue triggers a craving, which is the 2nd stage of the habit loop.
Stage Two - Craving
A craving is what triggers you to act. Your brain gets thinking about the behavior (or habit) you are about to start, anticipating the reward that lies ahead. The thing about a craving is it’s not the actual behavior you crave, it’s the feeling of pleasure or relief it gives.
Each craving is really you wanting to change the way you feel, or wanting the reward.
For example, you don’t crave clicking your unread text messages. You crave the sense of relief and accomplishment from clearing that little red notification.
Cravings are not the same for everybody. The same sounds, smells, and sights trigger different responses in each person. It’s an individual person’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions that make a cue trigger a craving.
Stage Three - Response
Response is your habit. It’s getting that reward. The behavior you do in response to the craving. Remember a response (habit) can be a thought or an action.
Some cues trigger cravings to avoid uncomfortable feelings. When that happens, the response is a thought and avoidance.
Stage Four - Reward
The reward is the thing that satisfies your craving. It’s a direct benefit of the behavior, no matter how temporary. Rewards are the reason we do the things we do.
Think about it, you’re not going to continue to do something unless you are getting some kind of benefit from it. Rewards are the basis of any habit. If the reward doesn’t relieve your craving, there isn’t a reason to do it again. Every habit works this way.
James Clear describes these stages as an endless feedback loop that happens very quickly, which is why habits can be so difficult to change. They become automatic.
Changing a habit requires changing part of the habit loop. So how do we do that?
When thinking about what new habit you want to create, the Four Laws of Behavior Change can help you get started.
- Make it Obvious
Talking about your cues or triggers - put the things you want to see in front of you and around you.
When you’re trying to get rid of a bad habit - make your cues invisible. As much as possible, remove the things that trigger your cravings.
- Make it Attractive
Remember, you are dealing with the desire for an end reward here. Make your new habit cravings attractive.
Trying to kick a bad habit? Make the craving as unattractive as possible.
- Make it Easy
Don’t create huge and unattainable habits that are hugely different from what you are doing. The key to changing behavior is making changes that are easy.
Creating a new habit? Make the response (habit) one that’s easy.
Changing a bad habit? Make the bad habit difficult to continue to do.
- Make it Satisfying
Reward yourself for the new, improved habit. To change an unwanted habit, it needs to become as unsatisfying as possible.
Changing a habit is not an easy task by far! Some habits are ones we have had for our entire lives, and imagining what to do differently and how to do it can be difficult to wrap your mind around.
Consider getting help from a skilled therapist who can help guide you on your journey from unwanted and unhealthy habits, to creating new and healthy habits.
Redeemed Life Counseling is here to help! Let’s Connect! Call or email us today to schedule an appointment.
940-222-8552 or email email@example.com
Clinical Director and Co-Owner at Redeemed Life Counseling