Autopilot Habit Hacking to Effortlessly Improve Willpower

Good living is actually pretty hard work. Habits are difficult to make and keep, especially when you need to improve willpower. But there’s a reason you brush your teeth every single day. There’s a reason you automatically drive a certain way to work, eat specific things, and do the same thing when you get home. Those habits are deeply engrained, and are executed without much conscious thought.

What if it was that simple with all of those progressive habits we are consistently trying to implement? I’m sure you’re familiar with the classic story: boy meets habit, boy falls in love, boy stops habit within a week. Let’s go through the key steps you need to create a habit hack, which is a progressive activity that doesn’t take much effort, rewards you consistently, improves your life, and happens on autopilot.

 

THREE ESSENTIAL STEPS TO A HABIT HACK

There are a few keys you need to follow when you design a new habit. Based on scientific research from Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, we all go through what’s called a “habit loop”, which is a three step process.

1. The Trigger

2. The Routine

3. The Reward

When we have successfully engrained a habit (like brushing our teeth) the part of the brain called the basal ganglia takes over. This frees up mental processing power for more conscious activities, and could be related to why we come up with such great ideas during a shower, a run, or a session at the gym. The basal ganglia is a huge advantage to help improve willpower, and if we can learn to harness it, we can create autopilot behaviors.

 

1. Pull The Trigger, I Dare You.

Your trigger is something that tells your brain it’s time to go in autopilot mode and execute the associated habit. Cues are everywhere; a long day at work, the second you wake up in the morning, when you walk in the door, when someone says something rude, or even when you hear a specific noise.

Think about the text notification, and how you instantly react. Is there any better example of a perfectly designed trigger, routine, and reward? The good news is, you don’t have to change the trigger, you just need to find out what it is. Think very carefully about your daily routine, and list at least 5 triggers in your day. Things like getting into the car or where you first walk in the morning are all usable triggers. Keep them in mind, because we may need to break old triggers and use new ones.

 

2. 86 Bad Routine, Sub Habit Hack.

Time to throw away our old habit and put in a new one. Try and make these habits similar in effort. If you’re in really rough shape, and go gambling at the casino every night, that’s a habit that could be substituted by an hour-long trip to the gym. But if you’re simply trying to drink less coffee, then a five-minute walk around the block in the sunshine is a substitute at the same effort level. It’s essential that as soon as you feel a trigger, you run the new program.

Once you have your trigger that automatically runs the old routine, you have two choices. You can either A) remove that trigger from your life, or B) consciously choose to run a new routine with the old trigger until it becomes engrained. If you have a deep-seeded habit you’ve never been able to quit, take a vacation. This eliminates all old triggers, and you have the opportunity to program in a few new ones before heading back into your day-to-day life.

 

3. Go Ahead, You Deserve It. But Just A Little.

If you try and substitute out an old routine without some sort of reward, your habit hack is going to fail. If you have a cigarette every time you get into the car in the morning, and try and substitute that with a podcast lecture on western history, it’s not going to work. You need to find a very real reward that influences the chemicals in your brain. As you grind away at building a new habit, your brain will start anticipating the reward (such as a smoothie after the gym) and push you to complete the routine.

Rewards are everywhere. Socializing, relaxing, intoxicating, experiencing. The key to a successful reward is to enjoy it by being present, and to not choose something that is more destructive than rewarding. For instance, one small piece of a chocolate bar when you get into the car each morning instead of that cigarette is a perfect reward. After 50 pushups, the endorphin and rush of blood to your body is another great reward. Listening to your favorite song can even turn your entire day around, and grabbing quality time with the cutie you asked to be your gym partner can be a game changer.

 

DESIGN THREE KAIZEN HABIT HACKS

Take the time to write down three past triggers, routines, and rewards that you see in your day to day life. Next, create new happy, healthy, wealthy habits that either commandeer the old trigger or use new triggers. Make sure you are switching out habits that are comparable in effort, and provide the same general type of reward.

Write these new habit hacks down. Your bathroom mirror with an Expo marker is a great place for them! It’s important to stay conscious through the day. Don’t miss your old trigger, because you will walk right back into your old habit before you know it.

Leave a comment: What is your new habit hack?

What are some of your triggers that cause negative behaviors? What habits and rewards are you going to sub in? Have you discovered things you do automatically without realizing each day? One of my worst used to be turning on the TV the second I walked in the door, even if I had no intentions of watching anything.

I’ve used the same trigger (walking in the door) and subbed in a vastly similar routine (pressing play on my stereo) and I’m rewarded with some of my favorite music. Now, I spend hours at home reading, cooking, exercising, and working to good music as opposed to watching TV. How about you?

[The beautiful featured image on this blog is from tisquirrel.me]

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6 Comments

  1. Ted Engels

    I’m going to use this to hack my morning routine. I need to find a reward for getting up early.

    Reply
  2. Bob Jones

    Worth reading Willpower by Roy Baumeister too (source)

    Reply
  3. Mihai

    That one with the cigarette in the car, I am. On my way to the store to buy some candies. I need to get off this bad habit.

    Reply
    • JD At Conquer Today

      Smoking is such a tough one! Know this: you WILL eventually quit. It’s inevitable. Just keep trying and something will stick. Keep doing all the other things here at CNQR, and smoking will just push itself out, because it no longer fits with you.

      Reply

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