Habits of a lifetime

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAI’m reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which is appropriate for this time of year when people start making the New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve only just started but it’s a fascinating read and already I can see how the principles of habits operate.  Apparently, there’s part of our brain that is responsible for habitual behaviour.  It kicks in, for example, when we get in our car and drive to work, or the supermarket, or a friend’s house.  We arrive at our destination with the frightening realisation that we can’t remember anything of how we got there.  We’ve been operating on autopilot and it’s scary.  What has happened is that we’ve done the journey so often that it’s become a habit and we go through the motions without thinking about them.

When I moved house, every journey I made required a lot of thought and effort, which quite frankly was exhausting.  I had to plan my way, working out the best route to go, trying different journeys in my head, take into account likely traffic delays (was it 3 o’clock, did the route take me past a school), could I get petrol or stop off for milk, how long would it take?  However, after a while I was back on autopilot, travelling around without thinking.  I had broken an old habit and created a new one.

The habit cycle has three stages: cue – routine – reward.  The cue is the trigger that kick starts everthing, the routine unthinkingly follows, and the reward, I guess, is the resulting pleasure which reinforces the behaviour.  So in order to break a habit, you need to make a conscious effort to respond differently to the cue and when you’ve done this a number of times, a new habit replaces the old one.  However, the old pattern hasn’t been completely erased so you need to remain vigilant.  It explains how people give up, say, smoking for a while, then have one cigarette and start again.  Like I say, I’ve only just started reading the book so I’m making a few assumptions here based on my knowledge of behavioural psychology.

The scariest point that the author has made so far is that much of the time we think we are making conscious decisions when we are in fact merely reacting unthinkingly to cues.

It seems to explain why it’s so difficult to keep our resolutions and why, after a week or two of sticking to them, they fall by the wayside.

What bad habits do you want to break and what triggers your behaviour?  What good habits do you want to cultivate?

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3 Responses to Habits of a lifetime

  1. tartanpants says:

    I want to try to break the habit of too much mult-tasking – I always seem to have too many things going on at the same time. I think the multi-tasking is just triggered by years of living life in the fast lane, but I work part-time now so should be able to slow down. And I want to try to become better organized in my day to day routine as well! I say that every year though and I don’t seem to succeed!

  2. Pingback: How to kick 7 bad habits in 2013 « The Ged Lab

  3. Pingback: How to kick 7 bad habits in 2013 - The Ged Lab

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