Recently I listened to an audio book, The Power of Habit (Charles DuHigg). Then talked with my friend, Tim Schmucker, and he just finished reading the book. Then, a few weeks later a podcast by Andy Stanley interviewed the author and talked about many of the principles.
So I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas that rose to the top and how I applied them to myself.
The Power of Habits.
Habits are powerful (notice the book title). Try to stop a bad habit and you’ll realize how powerful they are. But the power of a habit can really help us become what we should be.
God has created us to be able to develop a habit so we don’t have to constantly think about what we are doing. Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Habits allow our minds to ramp down. We stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors.
The Habit Loop.
There are three basic steps to a habit: Cue, Routine, and Reward.
The Cue is something that initiates our action or reaction. For many, when we get up we have a routine. I don’t know what yours is, but when I wake up I go into the living room to do my ‘Morning Miracle.’ (I’ll try to write a blog about this later). Then, I go for a run, come home to shower, brush my teeth, comb my hair, shave, then get dressed. This has become my Routine in the morning for several months. When I leave the house I feel like I’m ready for whatever happens. This is the Reward I feel.
We all have habits, good or bad. Let’s take one of my bad habits. I watch mindless television sometimes. Here’s what happens. I sit down on my couch, which faces the television (the Cue). The first thing I do is reach over to the remote and start surfing channels untilI I find something interesting. Then I sit back and watch the show through to the next, and then the next. Soon I find I’ve watched a couple of hours of something that added no value to my life (the Routine). So what is the Reward? My brain gets a rest and I don’t have to really think about anything.
Changing a Habit.
Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same. You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it. How it works: Use the same Cue; provide the same reward; change the routine.
For instance, with my TV habit I could put an interesting book or magazine on the end table instead of the remote control. The Cue and Reward are the same. (Cue: Sit on the Couch; Reward: Give my mind a rest). But now I have inserted a more positive Routine. If I do this for several days, it becomes my new habit.
Start a New Habit.
To start a new habit simply attach what we want to do to something that has already become a habit. For instance, many people want to have a time of prayer every day. But they discover at the end of the day they haven’t had a time of meaningful prayer. One idea is identify something we do every day – like brush our teeth. Put a reminder sticky note on your bathroom mirror, and the next time you brush your teeth, have a 1 minute prayer time. Maybe as you continue your bathroom ritual you can continue prayer. Thus, after awhile you have made prayer a part of your daily routine.
So, below are a few more helps about habits. I hope you will develop new, good habits that will increase value and productivity in your life.
- Isolate the Cue. Location, Time, Emotional state, Other people, Immediately preceding action.
- Identify the Routine. What do you do without thinking once you start?
- Experiment with Rewards. The point is to test different hypotheses to determine which craving is driving your routine. Example: You eat a cookie during a work break. Are you craving the cookie itself, or a break from work? If it’s the cookie, is it because you’re hungry? (In which case the apple should work just as well.) Or is it because you want to burst of energy the cookie provides? (And so the coffee should suffice.) Or are you wandering up to the cafeteria as an excuse to socialize, and the cookie is just a convenient excuse? (If so, walking to someone’s desk and talking for a few minutes should satisfy the urge.)
- Have a plan. A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see a Cue, I will do Routine in order to get a Reward.To reengineer that formula, we need to begin making choices again. The easiest way to do this is to have a plan.
Anything you have done to rework a habit? Have you had success with the power of habits?