And as I am learning – there is a lot of science behind this stuff.
Rewind about ten months ago and I hated the thought of routine and habits, I thought they made life seem like a tick box exercise and took all the fun and spirit away from life. I thought that if you did the same things every day it was just a boring loop and made life feel like Groundhog Day.
I was wrong.
Since the turn of this year I’ve been experimenting with building habits. I thought I was the last person that could develop sustainable habits. I’m so not a habit person. But it turns out the brain just takes over. I have so far developed about four new habits that I’m pretty proud of and I’m realising that habits are the things that are making me feel like I’m achieving something. It’s quite funny to look back at how I used to think about habits because they actually do the opposite. They allow you to build and create, they don’t take it away.
Habits are made up of three steps according to Charles Duhigg. A number of people say that there is a fourth step to the habit formation but for this we will continue on with Duhigg’s theory. The steps are cue, routine, reward. Cue is something that signal for you to do the habit, the routine is the action of the habit and the reward is the payoff for doing it. Over time as we do the habit more often we become less depend on thinking about it and our brain sort of just takes over the process.
So in this cycle we become reliant. The more we do it the more we become automatic in our habits. There is no difference in good or bad habits for this cycle by the way, habit formation is the same for eating healthy as it is for smoking, all the same the three steps apply. For example, let’s take a pretty universal habit. Wake up (cue), prepare coffee (routine), reward (hit of caffeine). The more you carry out this habit the more automatic it becomes, until you get to a point whereby just waking up you crave caffeine. Duhigg explains that once a habit becomes embedded, the smallest of cues can set you off craving until you get the reward. We probably all are at the point whereby you wake up and crave caffeine, but it all stems from however far back you poured that first cup of coffee.
Habit formation runs pretty deep, in the brain I mean. There are studies on people who have lost memory but their habits that they form remain. Duhigg in his book ‘The Power of Habit’ talks us through Eugene who had forgotten all his memories but he still remembered his way around the block or where the nuts were in the kitchen. It wasn’t that he was remembering however, he was relying on the power of his habits.
So, if you want to build a habit, start with a cue follow it by the action and give yourself a reward. Repeat, repeat, repeat and in no-time you will be carrying them out without thinking.