- Interested since: 2010
- Looking for mentorship: Yes
- Willing to mentor: Yes
- Level of interest: 9
- Level of mastery: 4
Habits are an interesting little corner of behavior change. They are the behaviors that have somehow become ingrained in our subconscious. They are programs in our brain that we do without thinking.
Of course, that is largely a myth. Even breathing, which can be considered one of our best habits, isn’t entirely automatic. We can stop. Of course, we’ll pass out before dying. Wouldn’t it be cool if all of our good habits were like that? Where, if we ever tried to stop going to the gym, our bodies would knock us out and take us to the gym without our consent? That’s how cool the breathing habit is.
The reason I’m interested in habits is mostly because so many people want to make and break them. It gets to the heart of our struggle between routine and self-improvement. It perfectly illustrates just how out of control we our in our own lives.
Anyone that tells you that it takes 21 days to start a new habit (or 7 days, or 30 days, or 90 days) is trying to not only sell you something, but is willing to lie to you in order to do so.
So what is it that we sometimes mistake for a habit: something we do automatically without thinking? I am coming to believe that it’s a hormonal program. Basically, a finely tuned set of dopamine triggers around a specific behavior.
Say you want to wake up at 7am every day. Creating positive experiences around this desire is one way to help you make it a habit. Drink a cup of warm chamomile tea half an hour before you want to go to bed. Find a nice robe to entice you out of bed in the morning. Take a shower to relax. Read a good book in bed for 5 minutes. All of these positive experience (if you think those are positive experiences) create a line of positive associations that lead you by the hand into a particular behavior. You can just start gobbling up the dopamine hits starting at bedtime, and pac man your way all the way through to the morning.
The last remaining thing is that you need a trigger to remind you to start this cascading game of habit pac man. Maybe a soft chimey alarm on your phone at 10pm. Maybe it’s “the moment of zen” at the end of the Daily Show. Basically, a “after this, do this” style direct connection, ala BJ Fogg’s behavior change philosophies. It’s easier to add an extra link to an existing habit chain than to start an entirely new one.
On the other hand, we all know how addicted to certain routines we can become. Left to their own devices, a strong enough habit chain can pull in all kinds of unintended associations that aren’t necessarily 100% great. Like having to sit at the same chair in the same restaurant on the same day every week and ordering the same thing, just so that you don’t upset the habit chain associated with connecting with your spouse. And then getting upset at your spouse when they invite a friend and they come early and get seated at a table that isn’t “yours”.
Ah, habits. So interesting.