Mr. HABIT and global living
Relocating to a new country disrupts your habits and routines in many areas of your work and life. While moving abroad can be overwhelming and often frustrating, it actually represents a great opportunity to make positive changes and adopt new habits.
In fact, relocation may help you break the HABIT LOOP.
So, let’s dig in!
What is a Habit?
Have you ever tried to change an old habit? If so, you already know that habits are hard to change. They are engrained, unconscious and automatic. They are powerful and they trick us. They would do anything not to be put away.
Why do we create our habits?
First of all, habits are created in our brain and they represent an energy efficient way to operate. When we are learning something new our brain is fully engaged and it uses a lot of energy. Once we have developed a certain level of expertise (through repetition) that activity becomes automatic and our brain can decrease the level of activity. It starts operating in a trigger-reward mode thus saving energy.
Habits represent an energy efficient way to operate
In presence of a specific “trigger” (a sound, smell, sensation, place, or someone’s behavior) our brain will find the specific “routine” that is associated with that trigger and that provides some sort of “reward”. For example: eating junk to loosen up after a long day at work, talk more than listen to feel in control, checking the phone to feel wanted or liked, nestling on the couch to feel safe.
Our brain learns to “anticipate” the reward and that makes our habits stick. The more we repeat an activity the higher will be the “craving” for that reward. For example, you can feel the pleasure of drinking a cool beer well before you get one. Once you start imagining the pleasure of having those goodies, it will be very difficult to resist.
It is the anticipation that makes habits very powerful and sticky.
What happened when you try to change an old habit?
Your brain will fight back. Depending on what you are trying to change, it will start developing neurological patterns associated with feeling upset, frustrated, deprived, attacked. You stopped satisfying an important need and your brain is claiming it!
So, how can we change our habits?
To successfully change a habit, you need to identify the HABIT LOOP: the CUE, the ROUTINE, and the REWARD.
Understand why you established it in the first place. What need is your habit trying to satisfy? What triggers that habit? What are the actions that your habit makes you repeatedly do?
Look at these steps:
- Identify the ROUTINE (the specific habit you want to change). For example, “stop eating chips every night after work”. Be specific: “chips” vs. “junk”, at night, after work.
- Understand what is the REWARD (what the old habit satisfies). In our example: eating chips helps me relax after a long day at work.
- Identify the CUE (what triggers the habit). It could be a place, a time of the day, a person, a smell, something you see, or an emotional state. In our example, it could be that, when you leave the office to go home, you pass by a shop that displays a variety of chips.
You now understand how relocating to a new place is like hitting the “refresh” button. It automatically creates the conditions for you to change your cues and try new routines.
A powerful way to change a habit is to work on replacing the CUE and ROUTINE whilst still obtaining the same REWARD. After all, reward is the reason why you established your old habit (“The power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg).
- Change de CUE: choose a different road to get home.
- Change the ROUTINE (eating chips) with something that can provide the same reward. What else may help you relax? A warm shower, calling a friend, putting some music on, physical activity? Experiment until you find what works for you.
- Repeat – repeat – repeat. Repetition will create a new “craving” sensation: “I can’t wait to get home to take a shower”.
- Appreciate the side benefits: e.g. being healthier, nurturing relationships, etc.
- If possible, find someone to support you – a friend, colleague, group or a coach.
So, next time you relocate, take it as a great opportunity to create new habits!