We are the sum of our habits. We may think we are in control but we spend most of our day on autopilot. Like when you drive to work but can’t really remember how you got there? That’s your habits doing the work.
Take the story of man named Eugene. After suffering a traumatic and almost fatal illness Eugene lost his short-term memory. He knew how to cook bacon, dress himself and could tell you stories about trips in his youth or his former profession in electronics. He however could not tell you about events of the least 30 years. Nor could he learn anything new.
Or so they thought. He might not consciously be able to answer questions like who’s the current president but he did learn how to follow the route that he and his wife walked all by himself. What’s even more amazing is he wasn’t conscious that he learned it. He knew he was going out but he couldn’t explain to the doctors how he got back home. Or he knew he wanted nuts for a snack. He couldn’t tell you where they were, but he could go get them. With help, his brain had wired these new habits without him even realizing it.
The research on why and how such a thing could happen is the subject of the book The Power of Habitby Charles Duhigg. Starting with Eugene’s story, Duhigg unwinds the science behind why we do the things we do even when we don’t want to.
The case studies are fascinating. I am sure you heard the story of the teenager who Target knew was pregnant based on her shopping habits before she had even told her parents. He details their science, how they can predict where we are in our life and what that next big shift may be. Makes me wonder what Target thinks of my quirky purchases (cat litter, GoPicnic meals and birthday cards are staples for me).
My favorite, and perhaps the most useful, part is the review in the appendix of our Cue/Habit/Reward cycle. Almost every action we take follows this pattern,most often without us thinking about it. Think of your morning in terms of the cycle:
CUE: Alarm clock goes off
HABIT: Get out bed, go to kitchen and make coffee (or tea) (action)
REWARD: Taste, smell, infusion of caffeine so we can wake up and take on the day (reward)
This automated behavior isn’t a bad thing. It would be horrible if we had to think about every single thing we do every single day. We would never make it out of the house in the morning, but this can make it very difficult to take a new path. It’s so ingrained in our brains that even when we form a new habit, like quitting smoking, the old patterns actually still linger. Habits really never go away, they just get reshaped or reworked. The alarm may still go off, but now you skip the coffee and hit the gym. You still feel awake, you still get a reward. But that love of the first shot of caffeine still lies there waiting to take over.
Do you have one last bad habit that needs to go? Or are you just getting started and ready to start one or two new healthier habits? This book may help with tips and tricks from the case studies. If you’ve read it, tell me what you think? Or tell me what that last habit is that needs to go. Maybe we can find that new action/reward.