Habit formation is an intriguing and often controversial area of cognitive science. We know that the more our neural pathways are reinforced, the harder they are to reverse. This means that once habits are formed, good or bad, it’s hard to establish new habits.

What is often disagreed upon is the length of time it takes to break an old habit and the most effective way for doing so. Since discipline and habits are important for achieving success in any pursuit, it is an important concept for everyone to understand.

In this article, we introduce some strategies for building a better relationship with your habits and becoming healthier, wealthier, and wiser along the way.

Reward Your Future Self

In her book Thinking in Bets, Annie Duke discusses a study where young participants were shown a photograph of themselves edited as their older self. They were then asked to allocate $1,000 in spending across discretionary vs. savings. The participants that were shown this photo of their older self were more likely to save.

Visualizing ourselves being old allows us to empathize with that future self and change our habits to benefit them. You should view each habit as a decision that will in some way impact your future self. If you eat cookies instead of apples for your mid-morning snack, the impact of those decisions may not be felt for months or even years, but the habit will have a lasting impact.

Suzy Welch advocates her 10/10/10 rule where each decision is measured by how it will impact you in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. Evaluating decisions based on these three criteria can help us reward our future selves.

The Habit Loop

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg explains the habit loop as a cue, the routine or habit itself, and the reward. Since we can’t easily remove or replace what cues our desire to perform the habit, and the reward is truly what we are after, the routine is the only component of a habit we can control.

Duhigg suggests replacing the routine with something else that can give us a similar reward. If you have a craving for a cigarette (the cue), and do a 5-minute breathing meditation instead of smoking the cigarette, you will be rewarded with relaxation and a sense of calm.

What is Nudge Theory?

Nudge theory in behavioral science is a belief that reinforcing positive behavior will influence individuals and groups to maintain those behaviors.

It’s pretty well documented that when we write something down, we are more likely to remember and actually follow through on it. This same idea can be applied to reinforcing positive habits. For example, if you surround yourself with positive messages to reinforce a belief in yourself, you’re more likely to actually believe in that message.

If we track our expenses and can see how much we are spending on different things, we will be more likely to spend less and save more. If we track our calorie intake and burn, we will be more likely to eat healthier and exercise more regularly.

If you want to build a life around good habits that can further enhance your life, check out the visual below from Mint featuring 9 nudge theory hacks to build better habits:

Author's Bio: 

Drew is motivated to get better every day. He loves learning, writing, and playing music. When not surfing the web, you can find him actually surfing, in the kitchen or in a book.