New Year, New Habits


Okay lets be real, we probably do a terrible job at keeping our New Years resolutions. We promise ourselves we’ll quit smoking, lose weight, find a job, do better in school, yahdah yahdah yahdah.  You do good for the first few weeks and then…BAM! you’re back to your old habits again. Back to smoke breaks, back to skipping the ab workout, back to being lazy. Why do we do this? I don’t know for sure, but helping you understand how you’re habits work may help you change them.

Charles Duhigg wrote this book, “The Power of Habits: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business.” I”m halfway through it and throughout the book Duhigg tries to explain to you how habits work. Here’s what I’ve taken in so far.

So apparently our brains don’t like to work hard, habits emerge because the brain is constantly looking to save effort. Walking, breathing, dressing yourself are little habits you’re brain develops from routine. These habits create a more efficient brain so that you can harness its true power towards  quantum physics and poetry.

But these are habits you want to keep, changing bad habits or creating good ones is what we want to do this year. (Notice how I said changing bad habits and not get rid of bad habits.) A habit works in a loop, something triggers the habit, a cue.  Then there’s a physical routine, like smoking. And you do that routine until you receive satisfaction, or a reward from that routine. This habit loop is powered by a craving for that reward and the loop restarts.

Let’s take alcoholics for example. Most alcoholics don’t drink because they like to get drunk. Most of them drink because it offers escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties, and an opportunity to vent.  So let’s say an alcoholic is getting a divorce, (the cue). He/She starts drinking heavily, (the routine). The drinking provides the person with an opportunity for emotional release, (the reward). If something bad happens to this person again, the habit restarts.

Ask yourself what triggers your habits and what do you get out of it. Once you know that, all you have to do is change the ROUTINE. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are famous for changing bad habits. They help alcoholics identify the reasons why they drink, (the cue). They provide weekly meetings, a supportive group of people, and exercises to help them change their habits, (the routine). This routine provides alcoholics a comfortable environment for them to express their feelings, (the reward).

Now I understand some fall off the wagon. They do great for the first few weeks and the,…BAM! they’re back to their old habits. Deja Vu anyone? One critical component in changing a habit is belief. Not necessarily a belief in God or anything religious, but you have to believe that the changes you’re making will make things better. You have to believe that you will lower your cholesterol and see your kids grow up. You have to believe that gambling can hurt your family. You have to believe that getting out of your comfort zone will make you more sociable.

There’s no scientific proof that what this book claims actually works, but it’s filled with real world examples that follow this pattern. I highly suggest you give this book a read, even if you’re skeptical about it. It will at least show you a different point of view.

Happy New Year