The Birth of a Habit

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Change, though uncomfortable at first, is something that we all want to experience. At the start of every year, we make new year’s resolutions that we hope would take us to the next level of our personal development. However, it is sometimes difficult to be consistent in doing good.

In view of these challenges, it is essential for us to understand how habits are being formed. In his book titled “Atomic Habits,” James Clear (2018) explains that a habit is the by-product of a series of actions, namely responding to cues or triggers, developing cravings, responding to desires, and experiencing satisfaction.

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Consider the following examples:

Your five basic senses (e.g., sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste) respond to cues from the environment. The smell of newly cooked fried chicken can cause us to have food cravings.

The desire to eat has been created by the smell of fried chicken, so we will now decide if we will do something about this inclination to eat and be filled. The choice is still ours to make.

When faced with the desire to eat, we only have two choices — to eat or not to eat. If we had previously decided to go on a diet, then we would resist the urge to eat despite the cravings.

Eating fried chicken obviously satisfies our sense of taste and smell. On the other hand, the reward for not eating based on cravings would yield a healthy and fit body.

Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop—cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward—that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits.

This piece of knowledge should be life-changing for us. We are not necessarily in control of our environmental triggers. We certainly can’t stop ourselves from experiencing natural urges, cravings, and desires. On the other hand, the secret to forming a good habit, or breaking a bad one, lies in our responses. When we deliberately choose to act responsibly instead of emotionally, then we would reap the rewards of a disciplined life.