Habit Formation

How do bad habits get formed?

From The Productive Professional:

As I pointed out earlier, our urge to use mobile devices is very similar (psychologically and neurobiologically) to an addict’s drive for their drug of choice. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg breaks down the mechanism underlying habit-building. He states that a habit-formation has three levels: (1) cue/trigger, (2) work/activity, and (3) reward. Using the drug addiction analogy, we can elucidate this as follows:

  1. cue/trigger

Addict X enters an environment wherein X did drug Z for the first time and experienced an unforgettable high. This environment triggers X’s memory of, and desire for, that unforgettable high.

  1. work/activity

X begins to collect money and speak to contacts about procuring drug Z again.

  1. reward

After obtaining Z, X consumes it and experiences a somewhat similar high again.

Now, apply this to our phone-checking habit.

  1. cue/trigger

You hear the notification bell of your phone. Due to your past use of your phone, you associate the notification bell with new information. This association triggers your desire for stimulation and novelty.

  1. work/activity

Your triggered desire drives you to pick up your phone and unlock it.

  1. reward

You watch or read something pleasurable.

These are the simple steps that, if repeated enough times, solidify our phone-checking habit. As I mentioned earlier, going cold turkey in order to quit a deep-seated habit does not work. The best approach to overcome the desired habit is to replace it with another habit that follows a similar pattern. So, Satyam Sir’s advice to me was to make sure that I maintain distance or time away from my phone, and push myself to engage in activities that follow a similar pattern. One example of a replacement habit is scrolling through lists of online courses and finding a course that interests me, then working to complete the course, and finally, giving yourself a reward by sharing your achievements on social media. In the ensuing paragraphs, I am going to detail steps that I have personally taken to maintain a minimal relationship with my phone and increase my productivity.


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