Studies show that habitual behaviors- good and bad – make up to 1/3 to ½ of the time. Habits often control a lot of what we’re feeling, thinking, and doing, much of which can affect our decision making and other aspects of our lives. Let’s delve into the anatomy of a habit and learn some tips to “hack your habits” for improved behaviors and outcomes.

There are three characteristics of habits: automatic, routine, and contextual. Automatic habits are those that we perform without consciously being aware of them, where routine habits are those performed without emotional influence. Contextual habits are always paired with specific situations. For example, some people only overeat when triggered by a stress situation.

Hacking your habits isn’t easy. If you’ve ever tried to get into an exercise routine, or loose a few pounds, you know what I mean. It’s hard to forsake an ingrained habit and seamlessly replace it with a new-and-improved behavior. The good news: as long as you continue to repeat a new habit, it strengthens its hold. Similarly, the longer you resist making a desired change, the harder it is for new habits to stick. Your challenge is to resist old habits long enough to break their automatic pull.

So, now let’s give you six tools to do this.

1. Become more aware. Be acutely mindful of your habit’s cues and your unconscious reactions to situations. Increase your consciousness by tracking your progress through journaling or note taking.
2. Visualize small, concrete steps. Make a plan to respond to cues differently.
3. Tolerate feelings of discomfort. This is often important with contextual habits. Delay gratification and the urge to engage in your habit by sitting with negative feelings and waiting for them to pass. Keep yourself busy.
4. Get support. When trying to change behavior, it helps to feel accountable to someone. Hire a coach; enlist a friend to help you; make your journey as fun as you can.
5. Subscribe to realistic optimism. Make realistic goals, believe in yourself, and don’t expect perfection.
6. Persevere. Keep on keeping on. Every small step is progress. Believe in your success long enough and it will happen.

Here’s another exercise in hacking your habits: Think WOOP.

W = Wish. What habit do you want to change?
O = Outcome. What’s the outcome you want from changing your habit?
O = Obstacles. What’s possibly going to get in your way?
P = Plan. What’s your action plan? Think about your habit cues and a plan for responses.
Now you understand the bad habit you want to change and you know the “good” habit you’d like to form in its place. You have a plan and you’re ready to tackle your journey to change. One helpful tactic is to create “If, Then” scenarios. For example, if your goal is change your eating habits with the outcome to lose weight, you might create the following “If, Then” scenarios:
*If I am served a large portion, then I will only eat half of the food on my plate.
*If I am tempted to eat the cookies in the break room at work, then I will go for a short walk instead.

By doing this exercise you anticipate roadblocks and have a plan to deal with them.

When we learn to create new routines that overpower old drives and behaviors, we take control of the habit loop and change the way our brain thinks and responds. Hacking your habit and changing your patterned behaviors is challenging, but with dedication, hard work, a plan, support, and a positive attitude, it is certainly a goal you can achieve. Consider hiring an experienced coach to help you.

Ask yourself:
1. Do you have a habit that you would like to change?
2. Is your habit automatic, routine, or contextual?
3. What is your “WOOP”?