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Changing Habits by Retraining Muscle Memory

Changing Habits by Retraining Muscle Memory

So the saying goes, the first step in overcoming a problem is to recognize that you have a problem. The same can be said of a habit. With both starting a new habit or changing a bad one, positive change is led by awareness.

For better or worse, we need habit. Researchers say we spend 40% of our days on autopilot, not making any actual decisions, but operating on habit, the most relentless of which is the morning routine.

Our alarm sets in motion a series of ingrained events to get us upright, caffeinated, and ready for human interaction. Imagine if your brain had to decide muscle by muscle how to complete each task anew each morning. You’d be exhausted before breakfast.

Our brains have worked hard to form these habits. “Hebbian Theory” has been summarized as, ”Cells that fire together, wire together.” The theory proposes that for each of our experiences, how we feel, think, act, or react, becomes wired in a network of neurons in our brains. Their connections strengthen with each rerun of an experience. This leaves the brain programmed for automatic, unconscious actions.

Flex your muscles

In the wildly popular book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg describes at the core of every habit, the Habit Loop, in which a cue acts as a trigger for a certain routine, and after performing the routine, your brain receives some type of reward.

Duhigg explains the “golden rule of habit change” is to keep the cue and the reward the same, while inserting a new routine into the Habit Loop. It’s key to choose a replacement routine that will elicit the same reward. In driving, it’s replacing risky, often unconscious driving habits with new ones that deliver the same reward of getting to a destination efficiently. An even greater reward can be added, whether it's keeping a safety streak alive, or, as some companies are adopting, actually financially rewarding drivers for breaking bad habits.

This cue/habit/reward cycle is applicable to everyone. If you start to zero in on your cues and what happens in the moments before you start a routine, you open up opportunities to retrain that muscle memory.