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  • Writer's pictureHouria Bellatif

How can W.A.S.P take the sting out of the habit cycle?

In one of his quotes, Aristotle said, 'We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not a singular act but a habit'. Habits surround us in daily activities and tasks. Some of them we want to keep and others not so much. What makes breaking habits difficult? How do we form new ones, and more importantly, how can we stick to them?

Understanding how our brain works is the first step in making a new habit sustainable. Like any efficient processor, our brain finds ways to save effort by spending less energy on repetitive tasks and conserving its power for new ones. A tiny part of our brain, called the Basal Ganglia, is essential in recognizing patterns. It also simplifies the learning mechanisms, which are crucial to developing habits by chunking actions into smaller ones.

The second step to a successful change is learning what converts repetitive actions into habits. In the book "The power of habits," author Charles Duhigg refers to the "The Habit Loop" as a critical element to changing habits. It emphasizes how every habitual task is triggered by an emotion, which researchers define as a "Cue," and we repeat that task which is defined as a" Routine" every time we perceive a "Reward."

Habitual actions are embedded in our brain, making any modifications tricky, and even trickier to break are the most enjoyable ones. Every time we complete such activities, our brain releases the pleasure hormone "Dopamine." At which time, our gray matter enters an infinite cycle; the more Dopamine it generates, the more it wants; and it associates that with the habit in question. This process highlights how critical the reward is in habit-changing. So, research suggests keeping the incentive the same or one that provides the same feeling will solidify that habit loop.

Ok, now what?

W.A.S.P can help us break the cycle

There are many references on making a change stick in 21 days or less. When I decided to start exercising more diligently, I told myself that I could do it, it is only 21 days. I did. It did not last. It took me almost four months to incorporate yoga practice into my daily schedule. Until that point, I questioned my willpower, abilities, and priorities. Until I came across scientific studies that indicate it takes about 66 days to develop a new habit and up to 8 months for more complex ones. Regardless of how long it takes to see change, the key is to not give in to the comfort of what we are accustomed to. What prompted me to document the method I used, calling it WASP. It worked for me, and I hope it helps you too:

W. The Why and Why not.

A clear definition of the why keeps the motivation front and center, and being aware of the reasons for not taking the actions we know we need to take, is almost as critical. This awareness acknowledges this interference as a data point without the guilt factor.

A. Actions repeated frequently.

Changing one's routine by making a minor modification and repeating it daily is recommended. 20 min a day is all it takes to start. Before you say the issue is finding time: 20 mn is less than 2% of the total awaken hours on average. My change was to inject 20 min of yoga into my day (with flexibility in the time of practice).

S. Small and Simple changes.

Setting consistent mini shifts that are repeated regularly is a powerful strategy for change. These shifts work towards breaking the patterns. Tal Ben-Shahar highlighted well in his book: "Incremental change is better than ambitious failure. . .. Success feeds on itself." If we deal with a difficult change, we should start with simpler versions and add complexity as we progress.

P. Pairing enjoyable with less enjoyable actions.

Bundle an enjoyable activity with a less enjoyable one. For me, music is present throughout my day, especially when completing dreaded admin tasks.

Counter-productive habits can keep us from success, and supportive ones can guarantee a fulfilling journey. So when changing habits, let us consider ones that best support our goals, put them into action daily, and repeat. When facing a change, we tend to focus on what we will give up by changing and not what we will gain in the process. Change is not easy; it takes time, effort, and, most importantly, perseverance. Give the WASP a shot, drop me a line, share your progress, and tell me what worked and what did not.

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