The Power of Habit

“Those who are more accomplished are those that habitualize most of their day.” ~ Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.

I came across the Good Life Project through a friend and now habitually watch 2 – 3 videos every week. Even though I enjoy my current job, work’s been pretty uninspiring lately. As a result, I’ve found myself gravitating towards more videos on the Good Life Project to give me a boost of inspiration. Coincidentally, that very habit has lead me to watch this video on The Power of Habit. Charles Duhigg (a New York Times journalist and bestselling author of The Power of Habit)shares parts of his book to help us better recognize our habits, alter those habits and create new ones.

Goals set for 2014?

If you haven’t yet set your goals for 2014, check out CS’s last article in 2013first. This article doesn’t just suggest writing out your goals in bullet points and assigning deadlines for each. It goes*deeper *to help you reflect on the year-to-date before setting goals for 2014.

With your goals set, it’s now time to start building in habits that will help you achieve those goals and start altering habits that hold you back.

What is a habit?

****According to Duhigg, there are three pre-components to a habit:

Cue > Behaviour > Reward

A cue could be a time, a place, the presence of other people, an emotion or a preceding action. It’s this part that that triggers your brain to perform the action or behaviour. For example, being around colleagues after work in the local bar.

A behaviour is the part of that habit that you’ll most easily identify with and often refer to as the ‘habit’. It’s the action. For example, ordering a beer and drinking beer for the rest of the evening.

A reward is what you get as a result of following that pattern of behaviour and is the pre-component that helps to sustain the action. For example, feeling a release after the stresses of work or feeling good about building relationships with colleagues.

Building a new habit?

***So, how does recognizing these pre-components help us create new habits? At the start of this year, I decided to start flossing daily. I know it’s something I should always have been doing and that it’s as important as brushing your teeth for dental hygiene.Intellectually,*I knew the importance of the habit, but emotionally I wasn’t invested in it. I didn’t know about the fundamental parts that create a habit (as Duhigg outlines), but I did recognize the need to remind myself (a cue) and the need for positive reinforcement (a reward). After brushing my teeth (a preceding action and my new cue), I would grab some floss and load up a short TED talk. That way, I was distracted by what I was watching and not really thinking about the simultaneous flossing. Now, a year on, I no longer need the extrinsic reward (a TED talk) – the behaviour has become a habit triggered by brushing my teeth and rewarded by knowing I am doing the right thing. Duhigg describes this as an intrinsic reward, which is now enough to sustain the behavior without the extrinsic reward.

Why are habits important?

We have a limited amount of willpower. If we had to consider and decide every action on a daily basis, we’d be mentally exhausted. By building in habits to brush our teeth, take a shower and eat breakfast, we can save our willpower and mental capacity to consider more important decisions such as how to overhaul our personal finances, study hard for an exam or simply cook a meal. Another argument for taking on your habits and routine is, as you’ll hear from Duhigg in the video, those people that appear to be accomplished, in many different ways, are those that habitualize most of their day.

Watch out for a book summary of The Power of Habit later in 2014. Visit the book summaries here.