Habits are integral in self development (professional and personal). The right habits can significantly benefit one's ability to accomplish their goals. The wrong habits can hinder that ability. In order to create a new habit, it is important to first define the anatomy of one. According to James Clear, the habit loop looks like this:
The cue: what triggers your brain to start the behavior.
The craving: the driving force behind the habit.
The response: the actual behavior.
The reward: the prize for the response and what helps us remember why we want to continue doing that habit.
As you can see, it is a cycle. The cue (hunger) leads to the craving (fulfilling that hunger) which leads to the response (eating a burger) which leads to the reward (no longer feeling hungry...enjoying a delicious burger...mmmm I want a burger now... with a fried egg on it, of course). The more positive the reward at the end, the more it will reinforce the behavior/response the next time that cue comes back.
What's challenging in behavior modification is that most good habits do not give you the positive results (that lead to an enhanced craving) right away. They can require more work than bad habits, and can have a more negative response at first. Good habits do not necessarily have the immediate gratification that triggers the dopamine release to make it stick. For example, someone trying to improve their diet will have to sacrifice more time, more energy, and that delicious burger (if they do not have the skills required to make said delicious burger) compared to someone who purchases a delicious burger from their favorite restaurant. They know that they enjoy the burger from the restaurant and that it requires less effort than it would to make something similar. Even if the person is trying to cut expenses or inches around their waistline, the convenience and instant gratification may be too strong to keep focused on their long term goals.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear provides many practical ways to increase your compliance to achieving your long term goals and to reinforce good habit creation. One way that has really stuck with me is to add a desired response that gives you the immediate gratification (that is needed to enhance craving) that is lacking from the habit loop. I think of it as gamifying my new habits. Even though this is creating a short term dependence on an external drive, it can bridge the gap until an internal drive is formed. I have done this as a way to eliminate bad habits (through penalties), as well as to encourage good habits (through reward). At the start of every month, I write down general monthly goals and attach 3 ways to succeed at each goal. For example, one of my goals is to reduce the amount that I spend on food. Instead of living off of Ramen and peanut butter, I have decided that the best way to do this is to curb the amount that I spend on eating out. In order to give myself that immediate gratification, I pay $5 to my savings account for every day that I prepare all of my food/beverages, subtract $5 for every day that I eat dinner out (since it is the most expensive meal), or do not making any change to my savings account for any other infractions (I.e. coffee out). At the end of each day, I place the date in the appropriate column according to the effect that it will have on my savings account (add, subtract, null). This gives me feedback of whether or not I have been compliant and gives me a daily bonus at the end of the day to see how much money I have "earned" toward my savings. What's nice about using my savings account vs. buying something for myself...It's still my money and I am rewarding myself for my behavior. It's almost like I am working for myself, on commission. Curbing food expenses is not the only area that I have used this for. Other habits I have tied this system to include:
Being more productive:
add $0.10 for every page read
subtract $1 for every day of > 1 hour of "non-social" TV watching
add $2 for every TGP related task completed (...yes I am paying my savings account $2 for this post)
Being a good roommate:
add $3 for cleaning the whole kitchen
add $3 for cleaning the living room
subtract $5 for any infraction (leaving laundry in the machine > 24 hours)
At the end of the month, it get's addicting to see how well I faired in my game (as I add all of my bonus money from the month into my savings). Last month, I put $328.30 into my savings account on top of my automatic payment. Not only does this reflect how much work I have put toward my goals and my habit creation, but I am certain that the actual savings were even higher than the amount put into my savings by just avoiding the pricey Boston restaurants (even though a delicious burger sounds really good right now).
Eventually, the external drive placed on the habit (money into the savings account) should matter less as some of the internal drive develops (the gratification of the habit itself). For example, if you reduce the amount you go out to eat, not only will your finances improve but so will your health, you will become more efficient at meal prep, and hopefully a better cook. Once, the habit is pretty strong, you can leave it be, remove the external drive, or level up and build off of the newly created habit.
To learn more about habits, I strongly recommend the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. Some very strong resources for habit creation and elimination.
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”
― James Clear