Lead Well

What I’ve Learned about Habits

January 20, 2017

Have you ever wanted to make a change and felt like the time and energy it took just wasn’t worth it? I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to simplify life while making it better. This October, on Cheyne and I’s adventure to Europe, I read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. I love this book. If you want to be genius at starting great habits, this books is a must read. Here are five pivotal concepts I learned:

1. Habits begin as conscious choices but never end there.

Habits are formed because our brain is looking for ways to conserve energy. Habits allow our brains to go on a kind of auto-pilot. What once was a conscious choice to brush your teeth becomes an automatic action when you are getting ready in the morning. This is the hallmark of a habit.

“When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit— unless you find new routines— the pattern will unfold automatically.” -Duhigg

2. Any habit can be changed.

Duhigg says “Habits never really disappear.” Depressing I know. Habits are pathways in our brains always ready to be reactivated. But the good news is you can change any habit. Light bulb moment. This is why just stopping a bad habit rarely works. You have to change the habit. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on sheer willpower to break your habit. Which leads me to my next favorite discovery.

3. If you know the cue, routine and reward, you can change your habit.

Every habit is made up of three parts:

  1. Cue: 7ish o’clock, “I’m tired, I worked a long day, it was stressful.”
  2. Routine: 7:01ish, open the freezer and grab the ice cream.
  3. Reward: 7:10ish, need I say more?

If you know the cue and the reward, all you need to do to change a habit is find a new routine.

  1. Cue: 7ish o’clock, “I’m tired, I worked a long day, it was stressful.”
  2. Routine: 7:01ish, make some decaf vanilla tea with coconut cream, drink while browsing Pinterest.
  3. Reward: 7:10ish, feeling relaxed and at peace.

4. Willpower is a muscle.

Willpower is a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Making yourself sit and read for an hour instead of watching TV will increase your willpower. But just like a muscle, your willpower can get exhausted when it is overworked. Ordinarily, grocery bags would not threaten your biceps. But after a great workout, a 2lb grocery bag may very well be your nemesis. So too, going on a run may be easy for you. But when you have to work hard all day at a task you hate, that daily run is going to be much harder. You’re willpower muscle is exhausted.

So what do you want to expend your willpower on? Fighting your bad habits? Save your willpower by changing your bad routines into good ones. Make the new routines habitual so they are unconscious and don’t require willpower. It is great to exercise your willpower to build it, but we have to realize that we’ll hit a point where our willpower will be exhausted. Save it to use on the things that matter.

5. Keystone habits.

There are certain habits that if you change, change everything else. Often we are trying to overhaul our lives. Keystone habits are like using a lever to lift a heavy object. You can make tiny tweaks that will shift lifestyles.

Do you want better finances? Maybe your keystone habit would be to track your bank account daily. The small act of reviewing your purchases daily may trigger a host of changes to how you spend your money.

Do you want to set boundaries with work? Leave the office on-time every day. You can work from home if you want, but forcing yourself to pull away may just trigger something.

Do you want to get more sleep? Stick your phone across the room when you go to bed and leave the book on your nightstand. Just see what boredom will do to you.

These concepts have been so helpful! I hope they are helpful to you as well.

Happy Habiting!

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