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Breaking Bad (Habits)


When I was in high school, our vice principal gave the daily announcements which always ended with “...and remember: good decision-making leads to happier, healthier lives!”

Much as my classmates and I would snigger over the constant reminder, as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize how important all the little choices I make every day affect me. Some things are more conscious – should I get the salad or the hamburger? – but many more seem to be made without even thinking about it, and breaking bad ones can seem nearly impossible. Why can’t I get motivated to go to the gym regularly? Why do some people have a hard time remembering to put on a seatbelt? Why, oh, why, does my coworker need to click his pen when he’s thinking?

One of the books on my reading list is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, which promises to explore “why habits exist and how they can be changed.” In his interview for Amazon, Duhigg recounts discovering one of his own habits: a daily craving for cookies. By analyzing his behavior, he says “I figured out that the reason I walked to the cafeteria each day wasn't because I was craving a chocolate chip cookie. It was because I was craving socialization, the company of talking to my colleagues while munching. That was the habit's real reward. And the cue for my behavior – the trigger that caused me to automatically stand up and wander to the cafeteria, was a certain time of day.”

Duhigg explains that habits work by having a cue (a noise, the time of day), a routine (the habit), and a reward, which keeps us coming back because we satisfied the underlying desire of our habit. In his case, Duhigg realized the underlying need and the trigger, and has been able to change his habit to satisfy his need for socialization and kick the unnecessary sugar to the curb.

I'm looking forward to trying this out on a few of my own bad habits. Perhaps I'll finally stop reaching for the snooze button in the morning!

(Photo via (cc) Flickr user H is for Home)