You probably know something about the influence of habits in your life. However, you may not realize how strongly they affect you until you try to change them. Don’t worry. You’re not alone if you struggle to quit a bad habit or establish a good one. In this article, we’ll explore the three factors that create habits and three powerful strategies to replace your bad ones with good ones.

Noted psychologist William James once noted that, “We are mere bundles of habits.” From the time you wake up in the morning until you go to bed at night, you’ll run through an astonishing number of habitual routines. Unless you stop to notice that, you probably won’t, because these routines have become subconscious and automatic. They go unnoticed because you don’t have to pay attention to them. Habitual routines are a great way to save energy and efficiently get stuff done.

Your habits may be cued, or triggered, by the time of day, your location, what you are feeling, what you are doing, and who you are with. For example, some habits (like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, drinking coffee, eating breakfast, and kissing family members good-bye) are triggered when you wake up to get you ready for the day ahead. Some habits are triggered when you arrive at school, work, or the gym. Some are triggered by inner sensations such as hunger, thirst, boredom, fatigue, sadness, loneliness, or excitement. Others are triggered by being with specific people or doing specific activities. Habits can be triggered by some combination of any or all of these cues.

According to the most current research on habits, there are three factors that create a habit: the cues that trigger it, the behavioral routine that responds to that cue, and the reward that the behavior seeks to bring you. Together these form the habitual loops that repeat automatically whenever the appropriate cues are triggered.

If you have bad habits that you want to quit, it’s important to understand what cues you to automatically engage in that behavior. It’s also helpful to know what reward you are seeking from it. If you are trying to create a new good habit, it’s important to know how to support that habit by consciously cuing and rewarding the behavior you desire.

So, how can you apply this knowledge to either quit an old habit or establish a new one?

If you want to quit a habit, you can begin by understanding what reward you are seeking from the behavior you’re engaged in. For example, are you smoking for the chemical or oral stimulation, the social interaction, or for a break from sitting at your desk? If you can get a handle on what is driving your habit, you may be able to find a substitute activity that will give you the same reward, without the negative side-effects. The goal is to put a new behavior in the middle of your familiar cues and rewards. Substitution can be a really successful strategy.

For example, when you are cued by location, time, activity, inner feeling, or other people to engage in your “smoking behavior,” you could substitute chewing gum, taking a walk with friends or co-workers, or drinking green tea in place of smoking. You can experiment with what behavior can give you the reward you’re seeking without the negative consequences you want to avoid.

If you have a new behavior that you want to make into a habit, see if you can insert it into a familiar routine. For example, you could insert meditation into your waking-up routine, your lunch-time routine, or your going-to-bed routine. You could insert working out into your getting-the-day-started routine by putting your workout clothes next to your bed; or into your driving-home-from-work routine by putting your gym bag in the front seat of your car and visiting the gym on the way home. If you can tie your new behavior to cues that are already in place and other activities that you already do, you’re more likely to be successful.

If you’re still having trouble getting started, see if you can anticipate the reward you want from your new behavior and imagine how good that will feel. This is a great strategy to get yourself over that initial hump of inertia. I use that one all the time to get me started on my workouts.

One more important insight about creating new habits: certain habits have tremendous power to positively affect other habits in other areas of your life. These are called “keystone habits.” When you establish a keystone habit, you’ll notice that you are more deliberate, intentional, and successful in everything else you do. Establishing a keystone habit is another potent strategy.

One of the most amazing keystone habits is meditation. When you insert even a short meditation into your waking-up routine, you’ll discover that not only do you feel better to start the day, but you do everything more consciously. You become more relaxed and present in whatever you’re doing. As a result you are much more effective and enjoy it all the more. Meditation builds inner skills that supercharge the other changes you’d like to make in your life.

To learn a mini-meditation that you can use to quickly shift into a relaxed positive state, check out the Resource Box below.

Author's Bio: 

Are you ready to shift to a relaxed positive state and manifest what you truly desire? Discover how to take your practice to the next level. For a mini-meditation, to release any negative feeling and connect to what is most important to you, be sure to visit us here.

Kevin Schoeninger graduated from Villanova University in 1986 with a Master's Degree in Philosophy. He is certified as a Life Coach, Reiki Master Teacher, Qigong Meditation Instructor, and Personal Fitness Trainer.