Automating Habits

Are you able to think about the exact way you brushed your teeth this morning? Like most of us, your answer is probably no. This is because your habits are repeated so frequently that they become automatic – which is the true goal of forming a habit. To make your habits automatic, take advantage of what technology has to offer, like apps! There are many apps that can drive new behaviour and help you form habits, for example Zombies, Run! and Headspace. You can also use components of the habit loop – specifically the cue and reward. Using a consistent cue and continuous rewards will strengthen the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated. These strategies will help you become one step closer to making your behaviour automatic – turning it into a, you guessed it – habit. 

Automatic behaviours run your life. The connections in your brain for automatic behaviours are incredibly strong – you probably don’t need to think twice about how to brush your teeth or making your first cup of coffee every morning. The habits in your life has been carried out so frequently that they become automatic. What we usually don’t realize is that this automation is the goal of forming a habit.  

Automatic behaviours are produced in an environment where the habit you want to form is the most promoted or the only one possible. This way, the habit you want to form is performed more than any other behaviours which results in, you guessed it – a newly formed habit. 

So how would you go about automating a behaviour? There are mainly two ways to go about this: technology, and using the habit loop. Let’s talk about technology first. 

  1. 1. Technology is so embedded into our lives that we sometimes don’t think about using it to our advantage when wanting to form a habit. An example of using technology as a way to form new habits are apps. There’s a wide range of apps that drives new behaviour and can help you form new habits. My personal favourite is “Zombies, Run!” where it encourages you to run while incorporating a fun game of being chased by zombies and collecting “rewards”. Apps like these encourage you to engage in new behaviours. In this case, running and overtime, running will become automatic to you.  

2. Cues and rewards are part of the habit loop that can be used to make behaviours automatic. To make a behaviour automatic, use consistent cues, which is the event that triggers the behaviour. For example, when your alarm rings at 9 a.m., it’s a cue to make your way down to the gym. This helps with helping your brain know when to enter autopilot. Next is the continuous supply of reinforcement – the reward. This helps your brain hungry for more reward which in turn helps automate your habit. Your reward can be whatever you like – treating yourself with an iced coffee after a long walk or indulging in chocolate ice cream after a study session, get creative! Technology can actually fulfill all these roles; it can act as a reminder (i.e. cue) like an alarm and a reward (like Netflix).  

Remember to also start off with an easy behaviour – automation of a habit happens successfully when the habit you want to form is the easiest behaviour in a given environment. There is a caveat to the automation of behaviours though – any behaviour can become automated. And that includes not only the healthy behaviours you want to form, but also undesired behaviours like going on social media whenever you have writers block.  

Since automaticity affects both good and bad behaviours, it’s important to know how to automate healthy behaviours as much as knowing how to control negative automatic tendencies. Stopping the toxic cycle of engaging in negative automatic behaviours relies on the principle to make the behaviour harder so that it cannot be done naturally. Use smaller dishes to stop automatically over-eating, remove distractions from bedrooms, or create an environment that makes the best behaviour the easiest behaviour. 

To read more about automating behaviours, check out these articles:

  1. Adhi – Power of Automation Habits 
  2. Clear, J – How to Automate a Habit and Never Think About It Again 
  3. Hook, J – 6 Tips to Automate Good Habits

Author: Cathy Xie
Editor: Zac Lo
Researcher: Michael Bacci