Let’s talk about habits. How do create them? Why are some habits easy to start and keep and other habits just take me a day or two to unlearn? I decided to look into this more this week.
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business, talks about his habit of an afternoon cookie in the cafeteria at work in his promotional video. After extensive time of getting a cookie every afternoon, he wanted to break the habit. Let’s be honest. I have habits like this I want to break, but I don’t even notice that I do them. Instead of just substituting a piece of fruit or a carrot for his cookie, he wrote a book. Just kidding, he went on the adventure of learning how habits work. He says he learned that habits have “a cue, a routine and a reward”. In his adventure he took time to determine what triggered the urge. He determined the time of day when the urge started. He also had to determine the reward.
The reward of the habit doesn’t mean it’s the habit itself. Duhigg started doing the same routine while interchanging the cookie for something else. He attempted walking around without getting a cookie. He attempted eating something else at his desk. He learned that the reward wasn’t the cookie. The reward was socializing with colleagues. Once he learned about the habit, he changed it to have a better one. Around the same time every afternoon, he gets up, walks around to talk to a friend in the office and then goes back to work. The reward of visiting with a colleague is the same, just without the habit of the cookie. (You can enjoy this video as well on http://www.charlesduhigg.com and find his book there or on Amazon.)
Because I like to dig more, I found out the science of what is happening in our brains. I found the interview with Charles Duhigg from NPR. The interview included this. “Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But as soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into a sleep mode of sorts.” – the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. https://www.npr.org/2012/03/05/147192599/habits-how-they-form-and-how-to-break-them (last viewed 01/07/2021)
What I gained from this is that when we make decisions we use one part of our brains. Once those decisions are in repeat it moves to a part of the brain which doesn’t have to think or make decisions. Habits forming initially takes decisions and this can make patterns harder to form. We may have formed behaviors with rewards we haven’t had to decide over for years.
Let’s talk about one of my habits. Around 3 p.m. every day I go into a slump. I determine the world is ending and I loose my energy. In looking at the cue I learned it started when I worked night shift three days a week. I would nap in the afternoon, get up to eat and drink coffee in preparation of staying up all night. I would often dread the long night and worried about missing out on whatever was happening in the evening with my friends. On the days I wasn’t working I wouldn’t nap. Around 3 p.m. I would feel a slump and rush to get coffee as my reward for my sadness.
I had noticed this habit (3 p.m., slump, coffee, life was okay), but chocked it up to a low blood sugar issue. I stopped working the night shift and if I was busy during 3 p.m. I would be fine. When my oldest started kindergarten I picked her up at 3 p.m.. I had purpose and the reward was seeing my daughter. My slump seemed to go away. This year, school ends earlier and I went back to the night shift. The same slump returned.
Maybe you have a similar habit you aren’t aware of. I have to determine what cues the habit. This is my next step. I know the world isn’t ending. I can drink less coffee, but I need to change the cue. I am going to focus on the cue this week and I’ll get back to you. Meanwhile, check out the promotional video I found, maybe read Duhigg’s book. It is definitely on my read list.
More and more I am convinced (and will keep talking about it this year) that the habits we have can help bring us back to a place of resilience when the tough stuff hits. When we don’t have to think about the helpful and healthy things we do every day, we can more quickly return to a place of peace and rest after experiencing a stress cycle. (I can’t wait to share what I am learning about the stress cycle in the next few weeks.)
Let’s work on the goals and habits which make every day healthy. Once we do, we plunge into resilience. See you soon and have a great week!