Habits! How To Make Them And Break Them (PART II)
The fact that an astronaut can make a space walk with relative ease just because she repeated that sequence many times on earth is a powerful concept! It can change our lives.
(Please refer to Part I which goes over the basics of habits.)
IV. FOR HABITS TO BE “AUTOMATIC,” MINIMAL OR NO CHANGES CAN OCCUR
For a habit to be executed “automatically” things have to be the same. Let me give you an example:
As a family doctor, I have seen thousands of patients for the symptoms of “cough and sore throat.” I always do the same things. I ask the patient to sit on the exam table and tell him to, “Say Ahhhh.” Then I feel his neck lymph nodes, and I look into his ears. I have done this so many times that it is automatic. I always come on the patient’s right side. If I change that, let’s say the patient does not sit on the exam table, then I am not as fast. I have to think, it is a much slower process.
An experiment was done where a small mouse is placed in a T-shaped container with cheese on the left end of the top of the T. Measuring its brain electrical impulse, the first few times the mouse was searching for the cheese, it had high brain activity (mouse is thinking). After 20 times the brain activity was low. The mouse then found the cheese quickly and easily. When the cheese was moved to the other side of the T, the mouse had high brain activity again – it struggled to find the cheese! But then after many times, it became easy again.
V. HOW TO APPLY THIS INFORMATION TO HELP US
1. Understand the power of habits. We should understand that habit formation can make very complex or difficult activity simple and easy, of course after conscious effort and many repetitions. Our habits determine our successes and failures!
2. Be intentional about forming good habits. How? Design something you want to do, be very conscious in the beginning and “force” yourself until it becomes automatic.
3. Don’t move the cheese. Once you form a habit, know that you cannot change things, even simple things sometimes (just like the mouse example). On my desk, my stapler is always in one specific location, on purpose! If I need to staple something (CUE), I immediately reach to my right (ROUTINE), and get the stapler (REWARD). If I want to change the stapler location, I have to think each time I reach for it until it becomes a habit now in the new location.
4. Know that your bad behaviors are usually nothing but habits. When you hear something bad about another person (CUE), you look for the next person you see in your office and tell them all about it (ROUTINE), and then you feel good that you told someone (REWARD). Most of us have done this before. Wouldn’t you agree? It becomes almost automatic!
5. Focus on forming new habits to replace your bad habits. For example, you become aware of this habit of “gossiping.” You design a new habit and decide to do the following: When you hear something bad about a person, you will say something good about that person to someone else. Now of course, this is at first very unnatural and hard. But like any other routine, after repetition it will become automatic. Remember that you are always in danger of slipping into the old habit because that habit is “imprinted” in your basal ganglia. However, it becomes less likely.
6. What do we do with our bad habits? How can they be erased? If we knew the answer to this, we would not have an epidemic of smoking or overeating! They cannot be erased, not easily anyway. However, there are some things that can be done (other than forming a new habit to take its place as described above). What should we do?
- Become aware of the cues, routines, and rewards and have a plan. Either remove the cues, change the routine, or remove the reward. Awareness is key! Have a plan to deal with the bad habit before it occurs.
Wishing you much success with your habits today!
PS: If you think this blog can benefit a person you know, please consider forwarding this email!
Credit: The seed thought of this blog came from the book The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.
Reading: This week I am reading the book Lincoln’s Melancholy, by Joshua Wolf Shenk.