How to Reform Your Habits

I’m rereading Charles Duhigg’s wonderful The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, a book I first read in March of 2013. After my first reading I was sold on the ideas about how we work to create habits, why they are valuable, and how to create new ones.  I adopted these strategies for a few of my own habits and closed the book. More than two years later I realize that there was so much more to this book than I remember now that I’m listening to it again.

Duhigg’s premise is that habits are helpful because they act as automatic processes, saving us time and energy to think and act on more important and irregular things. These are evolutionary advances, which still very observable in mice and rats. In our current information age we can use the idea of a habit loop to fix some of the habits we don’t like.

The habit loop goes like this; cue, action, and reward. The cue is what ignites the action and the reward is the neurochemical flood in response to the action. These three steps work together to create our habits. Through his research Duhigg found that creating new habits is harder than changing bad ones. The key is to unlocking the chains of your bad habit bondage is to make sure the puzzle pieces at the beginning and end stay the same and only your action in the middle changes.

As I read the book I knew exactly what habit I wanted to change, after dinner snacking. I always craved a sweet treat after each meal, it could be as small as a Hershey Kiss to a big bowl of ice cream. Applying Duhigg’s system meant that my cue was the end of a meal, my action was to eat a piece of candy or cookie, and my reward was the sweet taste of it. My attempt then was to replace the sweet treat with a piece of gum, and it worked. Two years later I have much less desire for sweet things after a meal and if I do my first choice is often a piece of gum.

Another example is what I listen to in the car. I’ve enjoyed podcasts for six years and along with buckling my seat belt (another habit) I arrange my phone and cue up something to listen to before I leave my driveway. My cue is turning on the car, my action is turning on something to listen to, and my reward is having an entertaining car ride.

Have you tried to replace any habit actions with new ones? Let me know on Twitter, @MikeDariano.

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