"You can never truly extinguish bad habits," writes Charles Duhigg, "Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine." That's the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.
For example Anonymous Alcoholics (AA). AA succeed writes Duhigg because it helps alcoholics use the same cues, and get the same reward, but it shifts the routine. The program forces people to identify the cues and rewards that encourage their alcoholic habits and then helps them find new behaviors. "To change an old habit you must address an old craving. You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before, and feed the craving by inserting a new routine."
Often, intoxication itself doesn't make the list. Alcoholics crave a drink because it offers escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties, and an opportunity for emotional release. They might crave a cocktail to forget their worries. But they don't necessarily crave a cocktail to forget their worries. The physical effects of alcohol are often one of the least rewarding parts of drinking to addicts. So, AA will forces the addicts to create new routines for what to do each night instead of drinking. AA's methods have been refined into therapies that can be used to disrupt almost any pattern.
Now add new routine with the power of belief. Those alcoholics that believed that some Higher Power (or God) had entered their lives were more likely to make it through "the stressful periods with their sobriety intact." It wasn't Higher Power (or God) that mattered, write Duhigg, it was the belief itself that made a difference. Once people learned how to believe in something that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives until they started believing they could change. The belief was the ingredient that "made a reworked Habit Loop into a permanent behavior." Even if you give people better habits, it doesn't repair why they started drinking in the first place. Eventually, they'll have a bad day, and no new routine is going to make everything seem okay. What can make a difference is believing that they can cope with their stress without alcohol.
"If it worked for that guy, I guess it can work for me." There is something powerful about groups and shared experiences. People might be skeptical about their ability to change if they're by themselves, but a group will convince them to "suspend disbelief." A community creates belief. When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real, doable and achievable. Belief is easier when it occurs within a community.
Let us recall: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted. But that's not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe a change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group. So, if you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative route, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. "Belief is essential and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people."
You Are the Sum of Your Habit(s)