To change, we must first understand what a habit is and the process of habit formation .
According to Stephen R. Corvey, habits are an intersection between knowledge, ability and desire. They are configurations that are stored in the basal ganglia of our brain, so that we execute certain actions automatically, without the need to think too much; and thus, allow the prefrontal cortex to focus on making decisions that need more analysis and attention.
That is why both bad habits and good habits are done on automatic pilot. This characteristic is what makes them so complex to change, because they are really integrated into our lifestyle and daily routine and many times we are not fully aware that we do them.
However, we have tools, such as willpower, our long-term motivation, and the desire to become better human beings, to combat this configuration and work towards our personal development.
All this serves as a trigger to dare to take the first step of change and maintain it over time.
New habits, bad habits, healthy habits, etc. have the same execution process:
The trigger is what leads to the action, in this case, habit. It is the click that activates the automatic pilot, and can be from an emotion, to a specific environment. Analyzing the trigger that precedes the execution of the bad habit, allows changing the outcome and understanding its reason for being.
Understanding the triggers in our lifestyle or daily routine is really important to attack the root of the habit. For example, observe if it is something we do during a specific moment of the day; if it is when we are in the company of someone; if the habit responds to a specific emotional state, etc.
The desire to do it
Habits are actions that give us pleasure, in some way due to the secretion of dopamine in our body. A bad habit is detected because, while it generates this feeling of pleasure, it affects us negatively. For example: eating too much sugar generates immediate satisfaction in the short term, and damage to our health in the long term.
Here willpower and awareness of the present moment come into play to assess the situation and be able to choose our reaction.
Good habits and bad habits run on automatic, so after the trigger, the desire will come and immediately our need to satisfy it will come.
Instead of executing the bad habit automatically, the next time we are in front of it, we will change the dynamics or insert a new habit, to stop the vicious cycle.
This applies to everything: stop and change the dynamics. If you’re having soda, drink a glass of water instead. If you have anxiety and you tend to drain it by eating, try to incorporate a moment of physical activity, which allows you to discharge the accumulated feeling. If you have a sweet craving, but you are trying to introduce positive habits, try to eat healthy in that craving, and substitute that sweet for some other option.