The most important point of the book is this: Most of what we do every day isn’t under our conscious control, but is a result of habit. Basically, the brain goes on autopilot to more easily complete all sorts of tasks, from driving a car to brushing our teeth. This means if you have a bad habit you just can’t seem to break no matter what you do and it makes you feel like a failure… it’s not really your fault! So stop relying on willpower to force yourself to stop. Habits can be changed once you understand how they work.
All habits have three steps: a CUE, which triggers a ROUTINE, and then a REWARD which makes you want to repeat the habit next time. These three steps make up the habit loop.
As you build a habit your brain starts CRAVING the reward as soon as it recognizes the cue, even before you carry out the action of the habit. The first step to changing a habit is to figure out the cue and the reward (the routine is usually pretty obvious). It’s much easier to change a habit if you keep the cue and the reward the same, and come up with a different routine to insert in the middle.
Lots of emotional eating habits fit the habit loop formula, because the pleasure of eating (or the virtuous feeling you get from not eating) works very nicely as a reward. Of course it’s fine to eat when you feel like it and everyone stress-eats sometimes, but it’s also important to learn how to manage stress and other emotions without using food.
Here’s my own example: Over the holidays I realized that when I was working from home at my parents’ house, some days I just couldn’t stop snacking and couldn’t focus on getting anything done, and on other days I’d be really productive. I decided to keep track, recording the time, location, how I was feeling, who was around, and what I was doing right before I got up to get a snack. It turned out that whenever someone would leave the house and leave me on my own, I’d start snacking, even though I wasn’t hungry! (This makes a lot of sense, because I used to avoid eating in front of other people and wait until everyone left before going into the kitchen).
The real problem was that I’d start feeling lonely, and try to solve the problem with food…which of course didn’t really work, so I kept going back for more. I decided to experiment with a different routine - watching a funny video online whenever everyone else left the house (I could laugh as loud as I wanted!) Hopefully this will be a healthier way of dealing with loneliness. It might not work every time and that's ok, but so far, so good!
What habits do you have that you could change using these techniques?