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How to Bust Bad Habits (and Build Better Ones!)

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Imagine you’ve just had a stressful moment at work. What do you do to feel better? Let’s say your automatic reaction is to reach for the cookie jar. The delicious sugar hit is an immediate comfort and you feel your stress melt away.

What just happened is a habit loop. Stress is the cue that starts the loop. A routine is triggered (eating a cookie) which provides a reward (comfort). Feeling comforted reinforces the loop, so the next time you feel stressed, you’re driven to eat another cookie.

You can use this loop framework to describe all habits – from smoking and drinking to checking social media or even brushing your teeth.

Using the Habit Loop to build better habits

As we all know, bad habits are hard to break! That’s why knowing about the habit loop is so useful: once you understand it, you can hack it to replace bad habits with good ones.

Here’s how it works. First, identify your cue, routine and reward. Bear in mind that cues can be anything – a location, a time of day, an emotional state, other people around you, or another action you’ve just completed.

Then, it’s a matter of changing the reward to something else. The cue and routine are the stubborn part – once they’re ingrained, it takes a lot of hard work to change them. On the other hand, changing the reward is relatively easy.

Let’s use the example above. Instead of eating a cookie, you might try going for a walk around the block. A brisk walk with fresh air in your lungs might relieve some stress and get endorphins flowing.

Do this enough times after you experience a work-related stress, and you’ll permanently change your reward from cookie to walk. It can take some experimenting to find the right reward, so try different things until you land on the one that’s right for you.

The Habit Loop in the Workplace

A lot of workplace behaviours are habit-based. While many of these are harmless or positive, others are damaging to the employee’s health and productivity. Take smoking, for example. Smokers are 1.4 times more likely to be absent from work than non-smokers – just one of the reasons it results in a high cost for the company as well as the individual.

By helping employees build healthier habits, companies can protect their most valuable assets and at the same time know that they’re contributing to making people’s lives better.

Sharing strategies like the one above is just one way to do that. It’s not always easy, but once people get to understand what drives their habits, they’re one step closer to changing them. So why not tell them about the habit loop today?

If you have a company Health Benefits Plan you could ask your Health Insurer what resources they may have to help you promote healthy habits. For example, quit smoking literature, webinars or workshops on stress management, etc. You could also ask the same from your EAP (Employee Assistance Program) provider.

If you would like to chat more about the possible options available to you, book some time with Anista today. Here’s to healthy work and life habits!

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