Habits Course Step Four
Are you sure you are ready and have enough time right now for this step (about 20 minutes)?
If not, just click the button below to go back to the safety and comfort of the last step or click here for more help.
If you are sure that you want to move on because you feel confident that you have learned and mastered the last step, then welcome and read on!
In this step, you will begin to learn how to break unwanted habit loops and how to form new loops - especially the closed loops which have become cravings and addictions!
Once your brain starts craving the neurochemical reward it gets from performing a certain habit loop, it can feel uncontrollable and even hopeless at times. Now it's time to regain that control and take charge of your loops! You are in charge of your actions - even the unconscious ones - especially now that you understand the loop and how it works.
Step one: Call out your loops
The first step in taking this control back is to "call it out." Literally, say it out loud. Any time you recognize a loop for what it is (thanks to what you learned and practiced in the previous lessons), whether uncontrolled or not, give it a name.
Call it the "potato chip" loop, the "bread loop," the "wine loop," or whatever loop you want to break. Then talk to it and say something like, "OK bread loop, now I know you're just a simple neural pathway. I will be canceling you and reprogramming you."
This might sound corny, but it's not to your subconscious brain! A simple statement like this might sound corny, but it really does take the control back and the power away from the loop.
Remember the subconscious brain works on the level of a three-year-old, so whatever works with a toddler, works with your subconscious. It doesn't know that what you are saying feels corny. It just trusts what you say. This is why talking out loud works and why reciting affirmations can be so effective.
Your toddler brain is also more easily convinced when emotion is present, so when you talk to your loops, make sure to be as emphatic as possible. Even if you don't really feel emphatic, just act like it. The toddler doesn't know your acting and once the toddler is convinced (which is actually quite easy), the toddler helps you break loops and create new ones by getting on your side.
The toddler actually is in control most of the time, whether you like it or not, and always will be, so it's vital to get him/her on your side! Guiding the toddler to get on your side is much easier than fighting the toddler because we all know how stubborn toddlers can be.
Remember that simply understanding the habit loop is half the battle and then taking its power away by giving it a name gets you at least 20% farther along, so you're already at least 70% of the way there!
Does this seem easier than you thought it would be so far? If it does, then you are doing things right because it is easy! If it doesn't, or something isn't clear, then go back to previous lessons, use the chart again and do more observation so you will have a deep understanding of those parts of your own loops.
Now that you know about your toddler and how calling out your loops takes the power away from that toddler and gives it back to you, practice that. It's a skill that gets better with practice, so do this for at least several days before moving on to the next step.
Step two: Hacking your loops:
Here's a great strategy to break the habit loops you want to stop. In this example, I'm using a food craving that you would rather extinguish since this is the most common thing people use this for. If you would like to use it for something else, just modify accordingly for the other habit you are hacking.
Sometimes doing just the first step is all it takes. other times, it takes several steps, Sometimes it takes all the steps, but even if you do need all the steps, it's still a relatively quick process, especially when you consider how much time you have spent struggling with a particular loop. It's a great return on time invested!
If you go through all nine steps diligently below and you still want to perform the habit, go right ahead. Yes, that's right. Give yourself permission. And if you are feeling shame, STOP that feeling! Shame is the biggest sabotager of all habits and is a sure-fire way to reinforce that habit.
It's still OK and so are you The habit will get weaker from these steps and each time you go through them and it will lose power until finally that habit will be gone forever.
But, like I said, these steps often work to break the loop - even on the first attempt!
- Drink some water. You're probably not really hungry for this food, you're just thirsty. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so if you drink 8-16 oz. of water first, you are getting your hunger mechanism online to work more accurately. Often, the hunger goes away.
- Deep breathing for at least 1 minute. Breathe in all the way to 4+ seconds and then breathe out fully for 4+ seconds for 1 minute. This gets your PFC (the parent brain) online and out of fight or flight mode, where the toddler is in control (who loves cravings and instant gratification).
- Put an obstacle between you and the food you are craving. Your toddler is also lazy, so putting the food or drink you are craving in the fridge down in the garage (just one example of an obstacle) makes your toddler think twice about following through because now it's not so easy anymore.
- Ask yourself if there is a food you could substitute for what you are craving that would also hit that spot, but is a healthier choice.
- Do a physical activity. This could be anything vigorous for at least 21 seconds or something medium intensity like dancing for 1 minute. This small amount of physical activity is enough to send your lazy toddler back inside and bring your parent brain back outside to regain control.
- If your toddler is still insisting, add a small delay of 7 minutes at this point. Go do something else for a while to put some space in there. This will give your parent brain some time to talk to your toddler (even if you aren't part of the conversation).
- Here's a "Hack Stack" step (stacking two hacks together): While your parent brain is doing its thing mentioned in step 6, do some more activity for that 7 minutes or go for a walk.
- Procrastination baby! Most people avoid procrastination or think of it as a weakness or character flaw, but it's just another habit. Why not use it to your advantage then? You can do this by telling yourself, "I can have this food, but I'm going to put it off until tomorrow. Then tomorrow, you might not have the same triggers, so it may be easier to say no.
- If you still are craving that particular food, go ahead, but eat a smaller portion than you normally do. Also, while you are eating it, take your time, chew at least 30 times each bite and focus on whether it is making you healthier or not.
Why give in at all if these steps don't work? Because the more you resist, the more you will feel resistance. That's how the brain works. We are here to bust cravings, not make them stronger!
Your inner toddler wants to resist, just like any other toddler. Toddlers prefer the status quo because it's comfortable and familiar. No one gets better by staying comfortable. Change requires some discomfort. This course is designed to hack that and minimize that discomfort and also to cut the time necessary for lasting change.