[By: Martin Grunburg]
Chances are you’ve heard a bunch about habit these days, and for good reason. Habit matters a lot.
Habit not only constitutes our character; it turns out that it is also the most efficient pathway to achieve our goals.
The “funny” thing is there is a very substantial amount of misinformation — or, to put it better, misguided information — on the internet about habit and HOW we can intentionally develop good, favorable habits.
At the very top of the misguided/misinformation list is something known as Cue-Routine-Reward.
What CRR Is and Why It Really Doesn’t Matter Too Much
Cue-Routine-Reward is also known as the “habit loop,” and has its origins dating way back to famed psychologist Skinner in 1948, but more recently, in 2012 (a couple years after The Habit Factor was published), a book titled The Power of Habit popularized CRR. (Medium.com post)
Unfortunately, what has followed since are countless blog posts regurgitating much of the same information about habit development. The problem is this idea is misplaced and greatly overvalued when it comes to HUMANS.
So let’s (one more time) attempt to deconstruct Cue-Routine-Reward.
First, You Are Not a Rat or a Mouse
CRR originated from studies related to mice and/or rats in a maze. Yes, you read that correctly. The mouse had stimulus/input (the maze), which was its Cue; then the mouse set about running through the maze, the “Routine“; and finally, the mouse would find the cheese or chocolate, (yay!) the Reward.
Each successive time the rodent ran the maze a bit more quickly, the habit strength developed, and before long, the mouse would fly through the maze to get the cheese!
Not So Fast…
As a methodology for humans, you possess (for starters) at least one, essential and unique power the rat (likely ; ) doesn’t have: self-awareness.
When it comes to habit development for humans, it turns out that self-awareness in the form of both intention and reflection is remarkably powerful.
Therefore, the very best way to intentionally craft good, supportive habits is to begin with (you guessed it) awareness! (Example: What habit would I like to develop?) And, second, applying your intention in the form of a plan.
In the world of The Habit Factor®, the way to develop a favorable habit is simply to follow PARR,which stands for Plan, Act, Record (tracking and notes), and Reassess (after a period of four weeks).
Your Plan may or may not utilize “triggers” or cues, since the Plan itself may be its own trigger (more on that another day). But most importantly, your Planmust have these two criteria: What is the frequency per week you desire to perform the behavior? Identifying this creates what are called “Target Days.”Secondly, onthose target days, what will be the behavior’s Minimum Success Criteria? That is, how much time will you spend (or what is the repetition quantity) performing the behavior to make it a success on your Target Day?
If my goal is to become stronger and more fit, let’s say the habit I choose to develop is the “Burpee habit.” The two key questions I must address are: What is the frequency per week I wish to perform this behavior? Second, upon each execution of the behavior, how many will I do? Ten? 25? More?
The idea is to set the minimum threshold low — typically very low upon starting. So, if I’ve never done a Burpee in my life and I’m not very fit, I might set the Minimum Success Criteria to just 10 Burpees on my Target Days (let’s say Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). Thus, I will set my Frequency Per Week to 3 times, and the Minimum Success Criteria will be 10.
These are essential components in our Plan because we then are going to Record our behaviors after we Act, comparing our targets against what we actually setup as a target. Thus, Recording is the third essential part of PARR and how to intentionally (you are not a rat) craft good, positive habits that are aligned with your goals.
The final component is Reassess. After a period of tracking for 4 weeks against your “Targets” you are ready to take on the challenge once again for another 4 weeks. If you were 85% or better for the prior tracking period, you are encouraged to raise the bar, possibly increasing both the Frequency per Week and/or the Minimum Success Criteria.
So, for example, the next 4 weeks you might still keep your Target Days to just 3, M,W,F but you are going to want to increase the Minimum Success Criteria to 15 or perhaps 20 reps to consider it a “success” for that target day.
That’s right: You can and should align your habits to your goals.
Think about it this way: How many creatures (other than humans) can intentionally develop habits?
Humans are the only creature that has this magical capacity, using their awareness — in the form of intention and reflection — to intentionally develop habits in accordance and in alignment with their goals and ideals.
This, my friends, is the definition of extraordinary!
Animals, on the other hand — rats and mice and bears and tigers and fish and birds — are driven by their instincts. Instinct operates very much like habit and even reside in the same area of the brain. The KEY difference for humans, though, is that we have the unique capacity to augment our inborn instincts (to survive and procreate) with intentionally learned skills and habits!
The fish or rat isn’t likely going to learn to tie their shoes or brush their teeth anytime soon. The bear may learn to dance, but that’s not gonna happen on his own accord.
Which brings up another excellent point…
It helps to think of Skill Development When You Want to Develop a Habit
Skill and habit, as they relate to the human brain, are so remarkably similar that experts in the related fields cannot articulate the difference. My thought is they should probably stop trying. Habit and skill are fraternal twins! They are nearly identical and the difference may in fact be merely a semantic one. For instance, the skill of playing the piano for the expert is also a habit. The skill of walking on a slackline or surfing is also a habit. The skill of riding a bike is also a habit.
Recall one definition of habit: “Done with little or no conscious thought.”
How Long Will It Take Me to Develop My New Habit Following PARR?
The answer is (drum roll please . . .)
It doesn’t matter.
Truly. It doesn’t matter. If you have the intention, you have the time — unless, of course, you are planning on being dead. The truth of the matter is that some habits may forge themselves inside of two months and others may take upwards of 8 months. The variation is due in large part to the determination/desire of the individual and, of course, the difficulty.
The beauty is after a month or two, or three, by following PARR and tracking, you will know when “The Habit Factor” has kicked in; you will no longer need to follow PARR — automaticity has taken over and you are performing the habit with little or no conscious thought!
What to Do Next
So, you want to get after it and test it out for yourself, right? Great! Time to take action to apply PARR to develop your next new habit. All you have to do is download the free habit tracking template here or simply text the word “Habits” to 33444. If you prefer you can use the free iOS or Android apps.
You are not a rat!