How to change a habit

This year I have finally visited India. After traveling in Central America, Southeast Asia and Europa I wanted to see this fascinating country I had heard so many travelers talking about.Travelling from north to south I had an amazing time – meeting beautiful people, eating incredibly tasty food, exploring historical monuments and lazily enjoying the beaches.

I also got to know some Indian habits. Before leaving, I had read up about Indian habits, not wanting to misunderstand the people I would meet or unintentionally treat them disrespectfully. For me, a woman from the Netherlands, Indian culture and habits were quite different.

For instance, Dutch people say no by moving their head left to right and yes by moving it up and down; Indians I met seemed to perform a sort of side to side head wobble which meant yes or no depending on context. Bargaining was another difference – Dutch people don’t generally haggle about the price of products, and it was pretty interesting to see how an Indian bargained with a street seller.

Seeing the difference in habits made me think a lot – coincidentally a friend of mine was reading a book called The power of habit, which I immediately purchased from a bookshop in Mumbai. I found this book, which talks about how to change your habit patterns. quite illuminating, and I would like to share the framework explained in the book, to understand how habits work and how they might change. This framework consists of four steps:

  1. Identify the routine To change something, you have to figure out your routine. Ask yourself questions like What’s the cue for this routine? What’s the reward?
  1. Experiment with rewards Find out which cravings are driving particular habits by experimenting with different rewards, so you can isolate what you are actually craving. This is essential for redesigning the habit.
  1. Isolate the cue Ask yourself the following five questions the moment the urge hits. This way you can figure out the cue for your habit.
  • Where are you?
  • What time is it?
  • What’s your emotional state?
  • Who else is around?
  • What action preceded the urge?
  1. Have a plan Eventually, you can change to a better routine by planning for the cue, and choosing a behavior that delivers the reward you are craving. You need a plan so you can begin making choices again instead of automatically following your routine.

I think we all have our bad habits, individuals as well as whole cultures, but we also have the ability to change those habits. Change is never easy, but if you don’t give it a try, who will?