I have a lot of bad habits. Some of my habits have been around since I was a wee toddler and others I have picked up in recent years. One habit that I really want to kick is keeping my back straight when I bend over. I know this seems like an innocuous maneuver but I tend to have this grotesque hump in my back from never bending at my waist. This hump is more of an aesthetic annoyance currently but I am a few decades away from being that old guy who is permanently bent at a 90-degree angle. Speaking of habits, my lovely wife who loves all things psychology checked me out a book called The Power of Habit: Why We do What We do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Essentially, the brain uses habits to conserve a crap ton of computational power and energy. An example of this is when you started to learn how to drive. At first, backing out of the driveway was a seemingly impossible task. You had to check your mirrors, slowly release the brake, look for pedestrians, look for oncoming traffic, etc. The brain was learning and using a lot of energy during these first few attempts but over time it got easier and easier. Today, you may back out of your driveway without thinking about it because your brain has turned it into a routine. Habits occur whenever there is a cue such as grabbing your keys before leaving the house. When you wake up you probably go straight to the bathroom-the cue was your alarm going off. Smoke cigarettes or eat crappy food? Usually these habits have cues like being bored, tired, or when you’re with certain people. All this is pretty easy to understand but until you identify your cues and habit framework then you can’t change your behaviors.
The framework for changing a habit is as follows:
-Identify the routine (I sit on the couch all night after work)
-Experiment with rewards (I like the feeling of walking after work for a half hour)
-Isolate the cue (Before I sit on the couch I always grab chips)
-Have a plan (I am going to put walking shoes next to the chip bag)
To better isolate the cue, write down the location, time, emotional state, other people around, and immediately preceding action at the moment you feel drawn to the habit. For example, whenever I want ice cream I am at my parent’s house, it usually is around 3:00 pm, I am bored, I am with my mom, and I had just eaten. Which cue is causing me to want the ice cream? Well if I record these indicators over multiple occasions I would figure out that I want ice cream because I am bored. Hence, to break my ice cream habit, I could go do something like watch a movie. Of course, this is all easier said than done but understanding the framework can help you identify which habits you would like to modify, keep, or stop. We all are trying to better ourselves, let us use this knowledge to make it easier and more automatic-in the end, habits can either be our best friend or our worst enemy.