Chicago’s Rollout–Change a Habit (5)


In the last post, we went into detail regarding the first five 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.

The first step is the initiating phase of the project, where we set the goal of what habit we are trying to break.   The second through fifth step above are what is referred to as the planning phase of the project.    Here’s where we set the time frame, figure out the CUE, ROUTINE, and REWARD parts are of the habit loop, and come up with a replacement ROUTINE.   Once all that is done, we go on to the executing phase, which is represented by the next three steps.

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

This is where we use the information gained in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit to increase the chances of our success in the project.   There is something called Simplified Habit Reversal Therapy (or SHRT for short–just think of your shirt to remember this acronym).    All you need is an index card or pocket notebook and a pen or pencil.   Divide the index card into columns representing the days of the week.

Put the index card and pencil in your pocket and take them along with you during the day.

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

Let’s take the nail biting habit as an example.   Every time you feel the CUE or TRIGGER for nail-biting, which is the sensation of boredom or anxiety, take out your index card or notebook and make a check mark.

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

Let’s say you catch yourself experiencing the CUE, but before you do your regular ROUTINE or habit, you do the REPLACEMENT routine you set up for yourself back in the planning stage in step #5.   Reward yourself by putting a hash mark (#) or other symbol (like a smiley face) on that same index card.

Keep doing this–you should notice as time goes on that your index card fills up with more check marks per day as you catch yourself experiencing the CUE, and hopefully you will also get more hash marks on your card as you successfully replace your old ROUTINE with a new REPLACEMENT routine.

It’s important in a project to do the next phase of monitoring and controlling your progress.

9.  Review your progress after one week.

The monitoring part is just looking at the results of your project on a periodic basis.  In this case, you just look at your index card to see if the number of check marks and hash marks is increasing.

The controlling part is making a mid-course correction if you see that you are not making progress.   Let’s say that you are trying to stop eating cookies in the afternoon.  If you identify the reward as simply the calories in the cookie, and your replacement routine is, let’s say, eating an apple or piece of fruit instead, you may notice that your craving isn’t going down, and you’re still experiencing the CUE or TRIGGER.   In this case, you may have to look again at what the CUE and REWARD are, because you may have gotten them wrong.   That’s okay!   You’re like a scientist who doesn’t worry when a mistake is made, because that means that he or she is gaining valuable knowledge, in this case knowledge of what doesn’t work.   In the case of the cookie, it could be that your reward isn’t the calories, or the sweetness of the cookie, but maybe the fact that you go to the company cafeteria to eat it.   In that case, the reward may be the fact that you use the opportunity of going to the company cafeteria to gossip with some of your fellow workers.   If that’s the reward, then you just need to come up with a different replacement routine.   For example, go to the cafeteria but have a cup of coffee rather than a cookie.   You’ll still get the reward (gossiping with co-workers), but without the calories!

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

At the end of two weeks, you should end your project, look at your index card and see how it goes.   If you are successful, then you may want to follow up and try to further reduce a negative habit, further increase a positive one, or move on to another habit!  This is the closing phase, and it is time to celebrate (but not with a cookie, of course, in the case of the example of the last paragraph).   If you have a partial success or even a total failure, use it to write down the lessons learned so that the next time you do the project, you’ll have a greater chance of success!

Tomorrow (Friday), I will not be on the radio program because Bert Howard has a special guest whom he will interview for the entire hour!   I will still bring you information related to the show in this blog, however, so stay tuned!

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