Charles Duhigg, a reporter for the New York Times has written a book that I’m looking forward to reading called The Power of Habits: Why We Do What We Do in Life. Harvard Business Review has posted a podcast interview with him, where he gives an overview of what the book is about.
The big idea is that habits are difficult to change because they exist in the lizard part of our brain, where cognitive thinking doesn’t occur. They are animalistic reactions. They feel automatic. Which means that trying to change the way that we think in order to kick or change a habit isn’t likely to work.
Which explains a lot of things, like why I can’t stop eating a bowl of chips and super hot salsa every night after my wife goes to bed.
So how do you go about changing habits?
What he suggests is to look at the cues and the rewards of the habits to be changed.
In his example, he was trying to stop getting a cookie at work everyday in the afternoon. He realized that the cue was the 3 o’clock hour at work, and figured out that the cookie wasn’t the reward. It was the quick break and chance to socialize with coworkers that served as the reward. Once he figured that out, he just started skipping the cookie and instead would just go find people to talk to for 15 minutes at 3.
Once those cues and rewards were identified, it became much easier to try and adjust the unwanted behavior.