Do you start your day by hitting snooze several times or constantly crave coffee at 2:00 every afternoon? Do you ever wonder why that might be the case and why it is so hard to break away from the routine you’ve created?
In his book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg creates a compelling case for why our habits define our lives (oftentimes unbeknownst to us) and how we have the power to change them, either slightly or drastically. The book defines the habit cycle as cue-routine-reward and covers stories ranging from the civil rights movement to gambling addiction to a patient with memory loss.
The basic idea is this: every day we are faced with a number of cues, perhaps the clock strikes 2 p.m. and you regularly crave a caffeine fix which then becomes the routine, and you reward yourself by buying a cup of coffee. To break that cycle, one must replace the reward with something different. Instead of purchasing an afternoon cup of java, maybe you decide to go for a five minute walk or eat an apple. Eventually, you will begin to crave this new reward. Of course when you factor in psychological aspects and genetic makeup, habits and decision making is a much more complex process than simply replacing a routine with something new, but you get the basic idea.
One of the most powerful quotes snuck in one of the final paragraphs of the book (page 273):
“If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be… The way we habitually think of our surroundings and ourselves create the worlds that each of us inhibit.”
Duhigg’s case studies force the reader to evaluate their own lifestyle and how to approach making a positive change. Whether it’s deciding to start a morning workout routine or quit smoking, he simplifies the actionable steps that anyone can take to redefine their reward mechanism.
I’m fascinated by the stories presented and the wide range of habits that are truly ingrained in daily life. I decided to apply the cue-routine-reward idea to recreate my morning snooze habit into an energizing daily workout last week. First, I changed my alarm clock ringtone to a new sound for the days that I plan to workout and left it as the old ringtone for the rest of the week. Second, once my alarm went off I spent about 10-15 minutes reading rather than jumping right out of bed. With this new approach to waking up, I was successfully able to fit in a morning workout four out of five days this week. (Normally it is once or twice per week that I’m able to convince myself to get to the gym before work.) I plan to continue integrating this habit into my daily routine and tweaking various aspects of it to see what works best.
If you’re a fan of any Malcolm Gladwell books or find yourself fascinated by trends and phenomena, I urge you to pick up a copy of “The Power of Habit” to learn more about this fascinating topic.
What is one habit you could slightly alter that potentially would positively impact your life?