The Habit of Habits

There are many reasons why I’m thankful for having an older brother.  One of the most important is the idea of having a “scout” in front of me.  On many occasions my brother indirectly taught me things that I could and could not get away with.  Also I was introduced to certain things early enough that the pulls of peer pressure made no lasting impression upon me.  For example I couldn’t have been much older than nine or ten when I tried smoking for the first time.  It was such a horrible experience that I didn’t try it again when my friends did in eighth grade.  So I was able to avoid years of a smoking habit through that one bad experience.

Habits are extremely powerful tools that can lift us up or drag us down.  At certain points habits become so ingrained in us that they feel like part of who we are as people.  So the key to habits is to choose ones that drive us forward and eliminate ones that hold us back.  The question is: how do you create/eliminate habits?

Habits are ingrained because there are neural pathways in our brains that act like highways toward that action.   The number of times that we repeat the action only widens the highway.  However, even a highway has to start somewhere.  Habits start with a cue.  Something that triggers it to begin.  The development of the habit needs to be locked in with some sort of reward the first few times that it happens.  This reward reinforces the behavior.  However the reward does not particularly need to be received every time.  Only consistently enough at the beginning to lock in the habit.  Cues and rewards can vary immensely depending on the habit and the individual.

Habit Creation

You can create positive habits by developing cues and rewards for yourself.  Although you may feel like you’re defrauding yourself at the beginning, the alternative is much worse.  It is much better for you to be tricking yourself into a positive habit rather than advertisers or peers tricking you into a negative one.  The key to habit creation is making it into a cycle.  The cue leads to the action and the action gets rewarded.  Therefore our brain will look for the cue again because it knows where this highway ends and it’s a positive place.

Habit Replacement

Habits cannot be completely eliminated but they can be replaced.  The old habit needs to be overwritten with a new one.  Using the same cue to get a different action and a different reward is the process of replacing a habit.  This is a very deliberate process because the identification of the old cue is the first step to replacing the old habit.

Get into the habit of creating your own habits rather than letting them be created for you.

For a deeper discussion on habits, watch this video with Charles Duhigg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voX0gUn_JOI

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