Part 1 How to Change Behaviours & Bad Habits

Updated: May 12

As a manual therapist engaging people in both structural transformation involves daily and or weekly habit changes to back up any healing gains from receiving Shiatsu or Kinesiology, often nutritional or exercise or just a level of awareness that changes are here and to monitor and address the mental aspects to back up any progress.

According to James Clear’s Four Laws of Behaviour Change (2018), there are four steps to establishing a habit: cue, craving, routine, reward (Clear, 2018). This article is about how we turn the above steps into practical actions/advice that can help clients not only alter the way they do things, but also make the changes stick.

Clear’s model offers a simple set of rules for creating good habits and breaking bad ones. Changing behaviour, in any field of endeavour or any challenge, begins with asking oneself four questions, each of which pertains to one of the laws. Each law, in turn, pertains to a stage in the habit loop model:

  1. How can I make it obvious? (Cue)

  2. How can I make it attractive? (Craving)

  3. How can I make it easy? (Response)

  4. How can I make it satisfying? (Reward)

We also note how, by inverting the laws for making a habit, we have the four laws for breaking one: that is, making cues invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying (Clear, 2018).

First Law: Make it obvious (cue)

Given that 40 to 50% of what we do is automated by habit (Flynn, 2019; Clear, 2018), we probably all underestimate just how much our brains and bodies do without us consciously telling them to. For instance, we know when we are hungry or sleepy and should enact a habit of eating or sleeping. We don’t need to be consciously aware of a cue for a habit to begin. That our system can enact a habit loop without us actually paying attention to the cue(s) that started it makes habits extremely convenient.

Gain awareness of your habits

It also makes them extremely dangerous. For example, take the American – who has to drive on the right side of the road – going on a road trip through the U.K., New Zealand, or Australia, where people drive on the left. At first, his pre-frontal cortex helps him think through the new circumstance, and he pays attention, but at some point he begins to relax and – with his basal ganglia having automated the new behaviour a bit – he finds himself driving on the right again: probably just as a huge truck rounds the bend and comes straight at him! Hopefully he makes it in time back to the proper (left) side of the road, and – pulse racing – resumes aware, rather than habit-driven driving. The latter is dangerous because his stronger habit is to drive on the right.So here’s a suggestion for helping a client change a habit: How many habits can you (or your client) name? Have the client list them all out onto what Clear calls a “Habits Scorecard”. For each habit, decide whether it’s a good habit (which earns a “+” next to it), a neutral habit (which gets an “=” sign), or it’s a bad habit (which attracts a “-“). Changing habits begins with noticing what we are actually doing (Clear, 2018).

Do habit-stacking

Research (Milne, Orbell, & Sheeran, 2002) has shown that when we form an “implementation intention” – a plan and commitment to changing our behaviour/habit in a particular time and place on a particular day – we are much more successful at making the change. The formula for it goes something like: “I will (behaviour) at (time) in (location).” The specific time/location makes the cue more obvious.

Moreover, you can advise your clients to do a variant of this through the strategy known as habit-stacking, in which we “stack” a new habit on top of a habit that is already in place. Rather than pairing the new habit with a particular time and location as with an implementation intention, it is paired with a current habit. Thus, the current habit functions as a cue to perform the new habit – and the client can keep stacking. An example of a habit-stacking chain could be: “After finishing my morning shower post-jog, I will do mindfulness exercises for five minutes each day.” Once the mindfulness becomes habitual, the person could “stack” a good work habit on top, by using completion of the mindfulness as the cue to, say, review the day’s work tasks and prioritise their sequence.

Utilise the environment

We can help ourselves “buy in” to desired habits by making the cues stand out. The cues that trigger a habit may initially be very specific, but over time our habits become associated not just with a single trigger, but with the whole context surrounding the behaviour. This means that we can profitably turn environment to our favour by training ourselves to link a particular habit to a particular context. Hence, sleep experts tell those with a sleep disorder that, for sleep hygiene, they must do nothing but sleep in bed. When the only activity associated with bed is sleeping, people begin to feel sleepy as they climb into bed; the behaviour of sleeping is linked with the cue triggered by the environment of the bed (Mental Health Academy, n.d.).

And we can use the inverse to break a bad habit. Habits can be easier to change in a new environment, because we can escape the subtle cues that move us along toward a current habit; hence, the serious proposal to go on holiday if one desires to change a habit. In a new environment, we are not competing with old cues, and it is easier to associate a new habit with a new context (Duhigg, 2012).

Eliminate ‘cue-induced wanting’ to break a habit

Given the above, what is the role of self-control in breaking a bad habit? Think of those you know with seemingly great self-control (self-regulation); perhaps they’re never seen drunk, overeating, or with a messy house. Neuroscience now suggests that, rather than mastering themselves, they may have mastered the environment, such that – rather than making cues for good habits obvious – they have rendered cues to bad habits invisible. In other words, rather than imposing harsh self-control to resist temptation, they have changed the environment so that temptation can be avoided. This could mean hiding the chips and lollies for those who wish to eat in a healthier way, or literally putting the electronic devices away in a drawer when “viewing” time is up. Note, though, that the new habits “cover over” the brain wiring for old, bad ones, but the latter don’t actually “die”; they are still in the hardwiring of the brain in “sleep mode”, and can re-trigger the person if their behaviour changes (i.e., they stop hiding the lollies in the highest shelf of the pantry) (Clear, 2018).

For the Second Law Click here

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