Anybody close to me knows that the coffee beans in my logo are a bit ironic. I’ve yet to acquire the taste (or the smell). My drug of the choice for the last several years has been Monster Rehab.

My favorite is the green tea, but I was nearly giddy when I discovered the orange flavor at a truck stop on a remote Texas highway. I would drink one every morning, another one mid-afternoon, and then occasionally a third in the early evening.

Because I’ve become a student of foods and nutrition in my journey to eating paleo, I knew that their long list of ingredients contained things that I wouldn’t ingest in any other form. I won’t touch fast food. (I’d rather skip a meal.) And most things that come in bags and wrappers are off limits too. So why would I keep drinking them?

It was a habit.

I enjoyed going to our Port Store each morning and saying hello to the team there. I’d crack one open just before our daily Stand Up meeting.

In the afternoon, I would grab one before starting my main afternoon project. It was part of my ritual for focusing my mind for another stretch.

If I had more work in the evening, it was part of my process for gearing up again. The crack of the can meant it was time to focus.

There was also a camaraderie amongst other Monster drinkers. They tend to be driven, slightly rebellious nerds, one of few groups I identify with.

Translated into habit-speak:

  • My cue was that I needed to focus to start a project.
  • My routine was that I would crack open a Monster to get started.
  • My reward was the energized feeling from the caffeine (and who knows what else) and the bonding with others.

I’d quit a few times during 2012, once when we went to the Philippines for 3 weeks and once in the fall. For those, I hadn’t really planned ahead, and it took a lot of willpower to not drink them.

This week is different. Instead of trying to halt the habit-pattern altogether, I’m making a substitution: fresh green juices.

  • My cue is the same. I still feel the need to focus my attention.
  • Instead of grabbing a Monster, my co-worker Nora (who deserves a medal) brings me an extra cup of her juice at the exact same time.
  • I still feel a “boost” and get to enjoy a tasty drink other than water. I also have a new community of green juicers to identify with. (Special thanks to Farnoosh!)

It’s been three days, and I’m doing relatively well. I still have several steps to take before I declare success.

Not having to master juicing to make the switch has been a huge gift. (Thanks Nora!) Once we get moved, I’ll need to figure that out and work it into my daily routine. Making it myself will also allow me to keep it as a trigger to focus for my afternoon and evening work sessions. (For now, I am using my willpower to get going again, and it is exhausting. I’ve been in bed before 8pm every night this week.)

So, unless you want to swap Monsters for green juice, how can you use this?

This process will work for any habit you want to change.

Step one is to find your cue. Habits don’t happen in vacuum. They’re triggered by something or are part of a routine. (Restaurants that show you the dessert tray are using this principle.) The next time you do your habit, think about what happened just before it. You might also jot down who you are with or where you are, as those could be factors as well.

Step two is to identify the reward and test it. This might take a few tries, and that’s okay. Remember, you want to work with the natural habit process instead of fighting it. Maybe your real reward for visiting the vending machine is getting to chat with co-workers along the way. Try taking the walk without getting the snack. Maybe you smoke to take a break from a stressful day and walk outside. Could you try just getting outside?

The last step is to make your substitution, and write down your plan.

Charles Duhigg suggests this approach:

When (cue happens), I will (new routine) because it provides me with (reward).

Now it’s your turn. If there’s a habit you want to change, share your plan in the comments.

Your idea for a new routine might be exactly what another reader needs to make the change.