We’re creatures of habit. We all have them. Some good. Some bad.
And if you’ve ever garnered the will power to attempt changing a habit, you know how difficult it is.
But why?
As a staff, we are currently reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. So as I process through Duhigg’s work, I thought I would share it with you in a series of posts.
The logical starting point is to figure out what habits really are. Because if understand what habits are all about, we can better work through re-tuning our bad habits.
With the massive amount of information we need to process from moment to moment, our brains are looking for ways to be more efficient and save effort. Turning certain processes, such as brushing our teeth, into habits allows our minds to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors so we can think about doing more important things, such as that upcoming board presentation.
Our brains will convert sequences of actions into “chunks” to make them automatic. Habits consist of a three-step loop. First, our brains are signaled by a cue, some trigger that puts our brains into automatic mode. Then, there is a routine, a sequence of actions. Finally, there is a reward, and this is what makes our brain decide whether this is worth remembering.
As we rehearse this loop–cue, routine, reward–over and over again, cravings emerge.
Duhigg summarizes why this is important: “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks” (Duhigg 20).
That means unless we actually fight our habits to adopt new patterns, the routines will unfold automatically.
This helps explain why it’s hard for us to change our eating and exercise habits. And most of us probably know this. It’s why we describe changing our diet or exercise program as a “battle” or “struggle.”
But it’s important that we understand the basic components of our habits–the cue, the routine, the reward–so we know how to “fiddle with the gears” of our habits, as Duhigg says.
So, here’s something to think about. This week, pay attention to the habits you have that you would like to change, such as where you go eat on your lunch break. Identify the cue. Notice the pattern of behavior that ensues. And reflect on the reward that you anticipate and enjoy afterwards.
Before we change our unconscious habits, we must first become conscious of the process.