We all have bad habits. Some people bite their nails, some smoke, some can’t resist that last cupcake and some just can’t get out of bed in time. Some bad habits are small nuisances (mostly to others) while others can be detrimental to our own, and other peoples, happiness (addictions of any kind). We often try to break them, but the majority of people fail to kick their bad habit to the curb. Only 5% of people that join Weight Watchers achieve and sustain their target weight for 2 years!
What are habits, how do they come about, how do you recognize them, and if you know what they are, can you change them? These were some of the questions that New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg tried to answer in his new book; The Power of Habit.
According to Duhigg, habits are powerful things. They prevent you from having to make millions of decisions every day; from how you brush your teeth, to what you eat for breakfast, how you drive to work or to what you do first when you open your computer (read the sports page, check your Facebook page or dive right into those big tasks that you have to complete today). When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in any decision-making and your behavioral pattern unfolds automatically.
The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between good and bad habits and as a result, whenever a behavior has become a habit, your brain just waits for the cue and then simply executes it.
So what is a habit? A habit is a loop in which a specific action is triggered by a cue and followed by a reward. Whether it is a sugar rush from eating that chocolate bar, the caffeine kick from your morning coffee or the endorphins that get released by regular exercise, your mind becomes trained to expect the same certain reaction to your actions.
As a habit is a simple cue, action, reward loop, you can actually go about to change it. Duhigg offers a four-step framework to change a habit:
Step 1: Identify the routine
Step 2: Experiment with rewards
Step 3: Isolate the cue
Step 4: Have a plan
At the end of his book, Duhigg himself concludes, “All patterns that exist in our lives are habits that we know exist. Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom -and the responsibility- to remake them. Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the only option left is to get to work and change them.”
Today I started trying to create a new habit for myself. Instead of waking up lazily at 7:30am to check the sports pages, my blog counts and my emails, today I woke up at 6:00am, had 90 minutes more to get in some exercise, meditate and start the day with my writing. This blog is a result of my first day! My cue was my desire to get more out of my day with the personal insight that I am most productive early in the morning. My reward; exercising and writing gives me the discipline that I crave and producing something early in the day gives me that feeling that, no matter what happens later in the day, I have still achieved something.
Will keep you all posted on whether I am able to translate this intention into a good habit! Good luck changing your bad habits!
– Paul Keijzer