Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (4)

Let’s start by reviewing from last post.   Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved in the project of changing a habit.

1.  Choose a habit you want to change

2.  Choose a timeframe for the project

3.  Become aware of the CUE for the habit.

4.  Figure out what the REWARD is.

5.  Figure out what the replacement ROUTINE will be.

6.  Start the project:  use CUE awareness to become more aware of the CUE, and when it occurs, use the replacement ROUTINE.

7.  Mark on an index card a check mark every time you catch yourself doing the CUE for the ROUTINE.

8.  Mark on an index card a hash mark (#) every time you successfully carry out the replacement ROUTINE.

9.  Review your progress after one week.

10.  Review your progress at the end of the second week when your project stops.

Now let’s go into detail about how you can best carry out each step.

1. Choose a habit you want to change

This is where you initialize the project, meaning that you decide what the project’s overall goal will be.   In this case, you should decide on whether you want to change a negative habit (like nail biting, or eating at fast food restaurants) or create a positive habit (like exercising).   To increase the chance of success for your project, you should try for small wins.   For example, if you are trying to stop eating at fast food restaurants, rather than trying to go cold turkey and stop immediately, you may want to try to at least REDUCE the number of times you go per week.

For an example with a positive habit, let’s think of establishing exercise.   If your eventual goal is to be able to run a 5K marathon, you may want to in the first two weeks try to take a walk three times a week.   Start small, and when you get a win, build on that!

2. Choose a timeframe for the project

Once you have a concrete goal that you set in step #1, now is the time to set a timeframe for the project, in other words, how long you should do the project before you decide to end it.   Most experts talk about doing a habit from two weeks to a month before you can consider it established (or changed, if is a negative habit).   Let’s go with that as our timeframe for the project.

3. Become aware of the CUE for the habit

Here are the six possible CUES or TRIGGERS for the habit routine with an example of each one.

a. Location–you always turn on the television set when you enter the living room.

b. Time–you always have a cookie at break time at work

c. Emotional state–you always bite your nails when you get too tense (or too bored)

d. Other people–you always have a drink when you see your friends at the bar

e. Senses–you always drink a sugary drink when you are thirsty

f. Immediately Preceding Action–you always have a cigarette after finishing dinner

The CUE will most likely be one of the above.   If you don’t know which of the categories your CUE is under, then you may have to experiment.   For example, let’s say you have a cookie in the middle of the afternoon.   It could be that the cue is hunger (senses).   Do you have a cookie in the same place every afternoon, such as in the cafeteria at work?   Then it may be the cue is the location.   Keep experimenting until you find out what the real CUE is!

4. Figure out what the REWARD is

This may be more difficult than figuring out the cue, because some items may offer multiple rewards.   Let’s take the cookie example.    If the reward is that you get energy from the cookie in the middle of the afternoon, then a possible substitute for eating a cookie might be eating a piece of fruit instead.   If the reward is the sensation of sweetness, try eating a cookie that is made with an artificial sweetener.   If the reward is that you use the occasion of eating a cookie in the cafeteria to meet with your friends and gossip, then have a cup of coffee instead and join your friends to gossip anyway.

5.  Figure out what the replacement ROUTINE is

Read over the last paragraph:   a lot of times knowing what the reward is will suggest to a way to get a similar reward, but one that is less harmful (or fattening, in this case).

Once you have the three elements of the CUE, the ROUTINE, and the REWARD, plus the substitute ROUTINE, then you get start on the actual work of the project itself.

I will cover this and the remaining steps of the project in the next post!




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