Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (2)

In the last post, I talked about the elements of a habit loop, the CUE or TRIGGER, the ROUTINE, and the REWARD.

In the case I discussed in the last post, that of biting one’s nails, the ROUTINE is obvious, that is, it’s when you bite your nails.   The CUE or TRIGGER is when you are bored or anxious and therefore tense.   What does the ROUTINE of biting your nails do for you?   It creates an irritation or momentary pain which reduces tension.

So how do we go about changing this habit loop so we don’t bite our nails?   What scientists who have studied this habit recommend is that, every time you feel the CUE or TRIGGER happening, you should replace the ROUTINE of biting your nails with the following new routine.   You should take your nails and scratch them against the inside of your wrist.   Not hard enough to draw blood, or anything like that, but vigorously so that you can feel the nails rubbing against the sensitive skin on the inside of your wrist.

What does that do?   It is an irritation that, like the irritation of biting your nails, reduces tension.   This amounts to the same reward in the brain as before, but now you’re doing something that is not destructive.

This is an example of how to change a habit–you don’t change the cue or the reward, but you try to get a similar reward with a different routine.   And that’s all there is to it!   It’s simple–but it’s not easy.    Experts differ on how long it takes to change a habit, but many say it is about two to three weeks.    So let’s do a project and change a habit.

How do you go about doing this?   It’s a step-by-step process, which I’ll go into in the next post.



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