Oh, Those Darn Habits!

habits mindfulness neuroscience subconscious Jan 19, 2021

Lately, I’ve been re-reading the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It’s so fascinating!

Habits include everything from what we do when we get out of bed in the morning to biting our nails to mindlessly munching. Even driving to drop the kids off at school and driving to work or the store. Stop for a minute to think about how many things you have done over the past day or two without actually thinking about doing. Incredible, isn’t it?!

As the book discusses, we have what’s called a “habit loop”, which includes a cue, a routine and a reward. An example of a habit loop would be your morning routine. For example, the cue would be that it’s morning and it’s time to get out of bed. The routine would be that you go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, shower, get dressed and head to the kitchen to make some breakfast. The reward is that you feel refreshed (hopefully) and clean and are ready to go about your day.

So what happens, though, when you want (or need!) to change a habit because it’s having a negative impact in some way? For example, hanging out on social media until 12:30am every night even though you know you’ll be exhausted in the morning. Or getting up from your desk at work every afternoon to mindlessly grab a snack you’re not actually hungry for.

Once something becomes a habit, the pathways have already been established in your brain. In fact, those pathways will always be there. This is what makes it so hard to break habits. (Think of the saying “it’s just like riding a bike”. Meaning that once you’ve learn it, it will come back quickly because the information is still there, even 20 years later.)

In order to “break” a habit, you have to create a new habit to override the old. In general, cues and rewards remain consistent and it’s the routine is what needs to change. Using the late night social media example, the cue is that it’s the end of the day. The reward is some time to relax before bed and to check-in with friends. It’s the routine of staying up so late that needs to change.

In this case, perhaps setting a timer to remind you to go to bed would help, or checking social media earlier in the night. You could also set a timer on your phone to allow a specific amount of social media time, like 15 or 30 minutes.

In the case of the mindless snacking every afternoon, it could be helpful to explore if the actual reward that you’re after is simply a social break or to stretch your legs and reset your mind. In either case, go on a walk, maybe with a friend, and get some fresh air.

Or do some stretches and/or bounce up and down for a minute or two clapping your hands (Yes, it may sound weird, but I guarantee it will wake you up!) Or send texts to a few friends or, better yet, give a friend a call. Chances are that you will forget about going after that snack.

So get mindful about your habits and take a look at what you’re doing that could be sabotaging your progress towards your goals. Also, book a free strategy session call with me and we can dig into some of the ways that you may be sabotaging yourself.

And just think of the habits we all picked up managing and coping with 2020. Taking a look at our habits is especially helpful as we look forward in 2021!

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