3 Techniques That Create Positive Habits
Humans are creatures of habit. Nearly everything you think, say, and do is a result of habits deeply rooted into your body and mind through years of repetitive behavior. The habits you develop can either help you move forward or hinder you. In fact, the state and quality of your life are direct reflections of your daily habits.
For example, do you bite your nails, check Facebook frequently, or mindlessly snack? These are just a few of the bad habits people generally try to stop. It may not be your intention to form bad habits, but your brain’s wiring makes it difficult to avoid them. Your brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine each time you eat chocolate or when someone ‘likes’ your Facebook post, and that dopamine makes you feel good. In fact, it feels so good that you repeat the behavior, hence the addiction to social media, ice cream, and TV shows.
But what about behaviors that you want to cultivate? Is it just as easy to form good habits? Scientists have discovered that habits are housed in a different part of the brain than reason and memory, and habits are vital for our functionality and survival.
In his book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg shares a story of a man who suffered brain damage that wiped out his short-term memory and reason. Surprisingly, the man could still function because of the habits he had created. For example, the man couldn’t tell a person how to get to the kitchen, but when you asked him to make eggs for breakfast, he knew where to go and what to do.
Now that we know habits are good for us, let’s discuss how to create them.
The Cue-Action-Reward System
According to Duhigg, there are three components to habits:
- Cues: The cue is something you notice that prompts you to act. It could be something like a commercial for hot, cheesy, melt-in-your-mouth pizza.
- Actions: The action is what you do. In this example, you pick up the phone and order from your local pizzeria.
- Rewards: Lastly, you get rewarded. That bite of delicious pizza is a reward for your action.
Your brain’s reward system kicks in by emitting dopamine when it recognizes pleasure. In fact, that part of the brain has been deemed “the pleasure center” by neuroscientists. Your brain encourages you to repeat certain actions by emitting the feel-good dopamine. After enough repetition, a habit is formed and you don’t even need the reward anymore.
Using Mindfulness to Form Positive Habits
One way to form a habit is to build on the cue-action-reward system by adding mindfulness to the process. Let’s use the habit of building compassion as an example.
- What’s the cue? When you notice suffering.
- What’s the action? You offer compassion.
- What’s the reward? The internal warm, fuzzy feelings you get from acting with compassion.