3. Let’s say that Pink Blog readers have a habit — eating junk food, frittering time away on email, procrastinating on big projects — that they’d like to eliminate. What’s the most effective step they can take?
It’s important to understand that you can’t eliminate a habit – you can only change it for a better alternative. And the single most effective step is identifying the cue (what triggers the behavior) and the reward (what craving it satisfies.) For instance, I had a bad habit of eating a cookie every afternoon. To change it, I identified the cue by paying close attention to what preceded my cookie urge. Research indicates that most cues fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people or the immediately preceding action. So whenever my cookie habit hit, I wrote down where I was, the time, how I felt, who else was around and what I had just done. Pretty soon, the cue was clear: I always felt an urge to snack around 3:30.
I also needed to figure out the reward. So, I conducted a few experiments. One day, when I felt a cookie impulse, I went for a walk instead. The next day, I bought a coffee. The next, an apple. I wanted to test different theories regarding what reward I was really craving. Was it hunger? Or the desire for a quick burst of energy? Or, as turned out to be the answer, was it that I wanted to socialize, and the cookie was just a convenient excuse?
Once I figured out the cue and reward, it was fairly simple to shift the routine. Now, every day around 3:30, I stand up, look around for someone to talk to, spend 10 minutes gossiping, then go back to my desk. The cue and reward have stayed the same. Only the routine has shifted, and I’ve lost 21 pounds since then.