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“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle
Lately I’ve been thinking about and studying on the power of habits. Naturally I had to read the book on the subject by the same name, The Power of Habit. Though I disagreed with a number of things he said in the book, it was extremely insightful into human nature and how much of our life we live on “auto-pilot.”
The author, Charles Duhigg, shows how habits are formed through a process which he calls the “habit loop.” Essentially, it’s broken down into 3 steps: the cue, the routine, and the reward.
- The Cue – This is what triggers our brains to act on the habit. For instance, maybe you have a habit of having dessert every night after dinner. The cue might be cleaning up the dishes signaling to your brain that dinner is over and it’s time for your dessert. Or perhaps you are in the habit of flossing your teeth every morning after washing your face. The cue would be washing your face, which signals to your brain that it’s time to floss.
- The Routine – This is the act of the habit itself (i.e. eating the dessert or flossing the teeth).
- The Reward – This is the benefit that your brain perceives it’s getting from the habit. In the cases above, it would be satisfying the sweet tooth and bringing comfort from the dessert or the satisfaction of having clean and healthy teeth from flossing.
Duhigg argues that all habits (good and bad) go through this 3-step process. In order to change bad habits into healthy habits, Duhigg provides a new framework to succeed:
- Identify the routine
- Experiment with rewards
- Isolate the Cue
- Have a Plan
Let’s say you are trying to lose weight and get healthy. But every afternoon at 2:00 p.m. you have the habit of eating a candy bar with a large cup of coffee to get you through the afternoon. No one probably has to tell you that this is a bad habit and is hindering your desire to lose weight and get healthy. But it seems so ingrained in your daily routine, you don’t know how to change it!
So, the first step is to identify the routine – eating a candy bar with a cup of coffee everyday at 2:00 p.m.
Next, we need to experiment with the rewards. Rather than settling on the previous reward (a quick boost of energy and satisfying our sweet tooth), we want to experiment with some new rewards. Perhaps we’re really just bored and are looking for a diversion. Or maybe we really are tired and need energy, but we want sustained, healthy energy without the sugar crash. So, try experimenting with new rewards. Instead of a candy bar and coffee, try a healthy, green smoothie or a cup of herbal tea everyday at the same time. If boredom is at the root, try getting outside for a quick, energizing walk for a change of scenery. The new rewards of sustained energy from the green smoothie or boosted metabolism from the quick walk will be much healthier and encourage us to keep up our new habit.
In order to keep up this new habit, we next need to identify the cue or reason – why do we do what we do? We touched on it briefly above, but perhaps our cue is boredom, fatigue, or unhealthy cravings. Getting to the root cause of our habits is huge when it comes to changing them. As Duhigg explains, examining our cue will help us develop a new plan of action (our last step).
Finally, having a new plan of action will help us change…yes, change is possible! Instead of buying and bringing a candy bar to work, I have a new plan of buying fresh veggies and hummus or blending a large green smoothie and putting it in my thermos for that 2:00 time. And my new plan of action will reap the better rewards of weight loss, increased energy, and better moods.
This book really helped me to start examining my habits. Rather than mindlessly going through my day, I’ve started to be mindful of the things I do everyday. I’ve started asking, “Is this habit helpful? Is it a good habit or a bad habit? If it’s bad, how can I change it?” Being mindful of our habits is key when it comes to changing them!
I can’t end this post without first saying that as a Christian, any lasting change can only come through prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit. As my Life Verse says, “ I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Do you have a bad habit you want to change? Ask the the Lord to help you understand why you do it and to overcome it by His Spirit.
How do you stick with healthy habits? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!